Acknowledging that Texans are “fiercely jealous” of our property rights and that there are likely not two communities more different than El Paso and Jefferson, Rep. Beto O’Rouke (TX-16), offered the 7,081-acre Castner Range as an example of where local property owners are working with the federal government to preserve valuable land.
The Jimplecute was able to interview Rep. O’Rouke by phone Wednesday morning to gauge his reaction to winning the Prize for Civility in Public Life award for bipartianship among other topics.
The Jimplecute asked the congressman about Sen. Ted Cruz’s (TX-Rep) remarks in Jefferson on July 5 about abolishing ICE, impeaching President Trump, fundraising reports as well as when he is returning to Jefferson and what he is reading these days.
Polls show O’Rouke an average of 8.4 points behind Cruz in his campaign to unseat the freshman senator from Texas. Polls with samples over 1,000, however, show O’Rouke only 3 – 5 points behind. In 2012, Cruz won election to the U.S. Senate by a margin of 16 points.
Following is a transcript and audio recording of the full interview edited for publication purposes.
Jimplecute: How gratifying was this award for civility or bipartisanship?
O’Rouke: It felt great and I was a little bit hard to believe that, along with Will, I was going to receive this reward after Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg received it the year before and Vice President Biden and Senator McCain did the year before that. But, I think more than the individuals that they wanted to cause, wanted to call attention to the bipartisan nature of our friendship, the ability for us to work on legislation together, and the fact that that shouldn’t be in any way notable or unusual, but that in 2018, it absolutely is. And we spoke a little bit at the, we were asked to give remarks, I spoke a little bit about the fact that we’re under, all of us in Congress, extraordinary pressure not to work together from party leadership, from constituents, from the primary electorate. So, I’m just very grateful to Will, for Will Hurd, for looking past that and you know taking a chance and getting in that Chevy Impala with me. And then more importantly working on legislation with me. Legislation for veterans. Legislation to allow Texas to lead on immigration. It’s just, it’s something extraordinary these days to have a partner from across the aisle.
Jimplecute: When Cruz was visiting Jefferson a couple weeks ago he said that you were open to the idea of eliminating ICE and then he said, “That’s nuts.” How do you respond?
O’Rouke: Yeah, I don’t think that eliminating ICE is the answer to the very real concerns that all of us have in Texas about the security of our communities. You know, first and foremost, the security of our families. But also the humane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees who are coming to Texas seeking asylum from the most dangerous countries on the planet right now. And I think a thoughtful debate and conversation necessarily between Republicans and Democrats about how to reform the practices of ICE and customs and border protection and the border patrol and health and human services. These are all the agencies involved today. I think that’s really the way to go. I know it’s not sexy, I know it doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker. I know it’s not something that, you know, folks are going to get incredibly fired up about, but I do think it’s a responsible. You know, rational bipartisan approach on this issue.
Jimplecute: Okay. What would be an example of an ICE practice that you would think needs to be formed?
O’Rouke: I think the most urgent practice right now is the separation and continuing separation of families. And I want to make something clear – these men and women in ICE have been put in a really difficult position through the policy of this administration. And frankly, past administrations as well. Those men and women are trying to keep our communities safe, are trying to do their job. But, when you have a policy or a practice like zero tolerance, 100 percent prosecution and separation of families. You know, those ICE agents are forced to do something that many of us in Texas consider to be inhumane. So, that’s a practice of family separation that I would change and I would also try to create some urgency, greater urgency, around reuniting those families who have been separated. I would really make sure that ICE is primarily focused on those who pose a real danger or threat to us in our communities. So, violent offenders. Folks who, you know, have engaged in domestic abuse or significant fraud. Whatever it is that threatens us, I want ICE to be focused on that, but the wholesale pursuit of undocumented immigrants in a country that has perhaps as many as 11 million, in a state that has hundreds of thousands. It’s really tearing families and communities apart.
Jimplecute: I have a local interest question that’s arisen since your visit here. Many local residents are concerned about H.R.5957 by Congressman Gohmert and Congressman Radcliffe to create the Caddo Lake National Heritage Area. Proponents say it would promote tourism and conservation. Many others fear it will lead to further federal regulations and land confiscation. Are you aware of this legislation or the concept of national heritage areas and could you speak to that?
O’Rouke: Yes. So, I want to make sure that the intent behind that of making sure that our national heritage is available to, not just this but future generations of Texans and Americans, is honored. And to think when you brought up a keyword. I want to make sure that local stakeholders, private property owners and the rights of Americans are respected.
And, you know Texas, we are fiercely jealous of our rights and of our property rights. It’s one of the reasons I’m a champion for not allowing the federal government to use its power of eminent domain to seize private property from Texans to build a wall that we don’t need on the Texas Mexico border. It’s the same reason that as we move forward with Caddo Lake and ensuring that there is preservation and public access that we respect the rights of local property owners and stakeholders and local communities.
So, I think we can balance those two. We just did something similar literally on the opposite side of the state. It’s harder for two communities to be further apart and still be in Texas than El Paso and Jefferson. But El Paso we preserved 7,000 acres of Chihuahuan Desert wilderness and we’re able to do it with vigorous community input and really allowed the community versus the federal governments to come up with a solution. I hope in this same case in Marion County and Jefferson and Harrison County were able to do the same thing. Let’s allow the local stakeholders to call the shots and determine the outcome and then the federal part of this should really follow suite.
Jimplecute: When Senator Cruz was here last week, he said that you were one of eight congressmen who has come out in favor of impeaching President Trump. Can you tell us your reasons for such an extreme position?
O’Rouke: Yeah, thank you and I’m really glad that you asked me this. I was asked by a reporter yesterday when, actually when we were receiving the civility award about this. The best thing this country can do is to allow the current investigation being conducted by former FBI director Bob Mueller to continue. To find all the facts as far as they go, as high up as they reach, and present them to Congress. Therefore, I have not signed on to the impeachment resolution in the house. I have never called for impeachment. In other words, and you can check me on this because every public meeting I’ve had, we’ve posted to Facebook, it’s archived there, you can watch it. I’ve never in a public meeting said we should impeach the president.
What I have said is that there has to be some consequence, not just for any attempt to collude with the Russian government in 2016 or to obstruct justice in 2018, but to collude with the Russian government on the stage with that president of that government in another country.
And so, if there was a resolution of impeachment and I was asked to vote for it in answering the reporters question yesterday I said yes, I would vote yet. But to be clear I’m not calling for impeachment. I’m not a co-sponsor to legislation that would begin that process. I just tried to answer the reporters question honestly. But, the facts are going to have to be compelling enough and to Bob’s initial questions about civility and bipartisanship. There are going to have to be enough Republicans who see this the same way in a Republican majority institution. I want to make sure this investigation can work its course, the facts are presented and then we’ll take it from there.
Jimplecute: Thank you. Senator Cruz says that you were out-fundraising him two to one and that was because of Hollywood contributors, maybe not grass root efforts here in Texas. Can you speak to your fundraising status in the past quarter?
O’Rouke: Yeah so, in the last three months, not only did we raise 10.4 million dollars, and not only did we raise it 100 percent from people. So, unlike Senator Cruz, I do not accept a dime from PAC’s. No PAC’s at all. So not corporate PAC’s, not union PAC’s, not the Sierra Club PAC’s, just no PAC’s. All people, no corporations, no special interest. 215,714 individual contributions, the vast majority, more than 70 percent, from the state of Texas. The average contribution, $33.
And so like, unlike Senator Cruz, who does take money from PAC’s, who has a higher average donation though he raised less, and who raises money from all over the country from his bid for the presidency from which he built a national fundraising base and his frequent trips to places like California and other parts of the country, most of our money, the vast majority, is coming from Texas and in very small dollar amounts. $10, $25, $50 at a time.
So, I’m very, very grateful for the support that we’re receiving in Texas. From the support that we’re receiving from East Texas. From Marion County, from Harrison. You know one of our most successful small dollar fundraisers was in Longview. And so, we’re just very grateful for the support that we’re receiving all over the state.
Jimplecute: Are you planning to come back to Jefferson this fall? And as a literature major from Columbia, what are you reading these days?
O’Rouke: Oh yeah. So, two things. Number one, yes. Chris [Evans] and I were just talking, who’s on the line as well, about our last visit I believe it was in February. And after we saw Bob in Jefferson we drove down, had a great town hall in Marshall. Before that we had been in Atlanta and I think before that earlier in the day Texarkana. That was our second time to visit many of those communities. We definitely want to come back for a third, a fourth, if we can fit it in. What strikes me is, though I was born and raised in El Paso, fourth generation Texan, in West Texas, so many of the issue that come up in Jefferson are issues that come up in El Paso. Making sure folks can work, that we work on a bipartisan basis, that we’re answering to people, not corporations, that we fix this health care system. So, I definitely want to make sure that we have the chance to come back and continue the conversation.
I’m reading a biography of Julius Caesar right now. And I was just, it turns out to be more of a story about the end of the Roman Republic more than 2,050 years ago. And I’ve got to tell you there are some strong similarities in the breakdown of their institutions and the cynicism that took hold of the electorate and the breakdown of norms that have kept Rome a republic as it slid into empire. And so, I think it’s just fascinating to me that something I don’t know a lot about. So, I love learning about it right now.
Jimplecute: Is that the Grass Crown series by McCullough?
O’Rouke: No. It’s called “Cesar: Life of a Colossus” by Adrian Goldsworthy. And it’s a pretty straight up biography. However, in telling Cesar’s story he’s also really telling the story of the Roman Republic at its end. So, Pompeii, Crassus and Caesar. All kind of cynically holding on to power as a triumvirate and now I’m reading about Caesar in Gaul fighting the Teutonic Tribes and. It’s just absolutely fascinating, fascinating stuff. So it kind of, it takes you away from day to day life but also in some ways reminds you of some of the challenges that we have in our republic 242 years into the experiment. So I’m really enjoying it.
Jimplecute: Thank you Congressman and thank you Chris. We appreciate your time.
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