Declaring that “El Paso represents America at its very best,” Beto O’Rourke officially kicked off his presidential campaign Saturday morning before a cheering hometown crowd about six blocks from a bridge to Mexico.
About 4,000 people filled a two-block corridor on El Paso Street to see former congressman O’Rourke in his first appearance back home since announcing his candidacy in a video on March 14.
“This community has offered me my inspiration in life and every single opportunity that I’ve had,” he said.
O’Rourke’s presidential bid is historical for the borderland. If he were to win, he would become the first U.S. president from a border city.
“When the border sends America her people, we are sending them our best in Beto O’Rourke,” Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who succeeded O’Rourke in the House, said at the beginning of the rally.
After an entrance to the The Clash’s “Clampdown,” O’Rourke took to the stage to speak for more than 30 minutes, including a segment in Spanish. He laid out several policy stances on a range of subjects including immigration, health-care reform, education and the economy.
Drawing from El Paso’s history as “a city of immigrants and asylum seekers”, O’Rourke said he would expand on the country’s asylum laws, as well as allow a path to citizenship for dreamers.
“Let us free every single dreamer from any fear of deportation. Let’s bring millions more out of the shadows and onto a path to contribute to the success of this country to their full potential,” he said.
O’Rourke said immigration reform would allow for a more secure border, and that he would provide more support to Customs and Border Protection officers.
He also called for “guaranteed, quality, universal health care,” saying he would build a policy that prioritized the affordability of prescription medication, lowered deductibles and offered the option for every American to enroll in Medicare without the elimination of any current insurance plans.
Speaking on education, O’Rourke asked for an investment in “a world-class public school system,” higher wages for teachers and debt-free higher education.
O’Rourke called for workplace reform as well. He promised equal pay for women, paid family leave, a ban on workplace discrimination and a strengthening of “unions that insist that one job should be enough for every American.”
O’Rourke said he wanted to “lift up rural America” through investing in hospitals, schools, and infrastructure such as broadband internet.
“Let’s ensure that every farmer, every rancher, every grower, every producer can make a profit as they grow what feeds and clothes not just America but so much of the rest of the world,” he said.
O’Rourke also pledged to sign a new voting rights act. “Every single citizen must be able to vote, and every vote must count,” he said.
The law, O’Rourke said, would put an end to gerrymandering and establish automatic and same-day voter registration.
Several times in his speech, O’Rourke railed against the growing divisiveness in the country.
“For too long in this country the powerful have maintained their privilege at the expense of the powerless,” O’Rourke said. “They have used fear and division, in the same way that our current president uses fear and division based on the differences between us.”
The El Paso morning rally was the first of three campaign stops across Texas on Saturday for O’Rourke, with additional rallies scheduled in Houston and Austin later in the day.