McALLEN — In a CNN town hall here that focused on immigration, health care and border security, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke retracted some of his recent criticism of Sen. Ted Cruz and denied questions about his own 2020 presidential prospects.
Earlier this week, in a debate with Cruz, O’Rourke invoked an old attack by President Donald Trump from the 2016 presidential race, when the candidate called Cruz “Lyin’ Ted.”
“It’s not something that I feel totally comfortable with, and perhaps in the heat of the moment I took a step too far,” O’Rourke said during Thursday’s McAllen town hall at the Performing Arts Center. When moderator Dana Bash asked if he regretted the insult, he said, “I don’t know that that’s the way I want to be talking in this campaign.”
Wednesday, however, a day after the debate, O’Rourke broke from the mostly positive campaign when he released at least three Cruz attack ads, according to the Texas Tribune. Previously, O’Rourke’s television ads have showed him holding campaign events as he’s traveled the state.
Thursday’s CNN town hall, with 1,000 people in attendance, a handful of whom asked O’Rourke questions, had become contested between the two campaigns. The Cruz campaign had asked CNN to change the format of the event from a town hall to a debate. CNN initially invited both candidates to participate in a town hall, with each candidate appearing separately on stage in individual segments. The network said the Cruz campaign accepted, but later backed out.
CNN responded to the Cruz campaign’s request that it would convert the event into a debate if O’Rourke agreed to the change.
In response to O’Rourke appearing in the solo town hall, the Cruz campaign sent senior adviser Ron Nehring.
“This was an opportunity for him to dodge questions,” Nehring said outside the PAC after the event. “Even with a friendly audience, he choked on a question on impeachment and on securing the border.”
Nehring, living in a border town himself, said O’Rourke has failed to outline how he would secure the border. O’Rourke explained how he and his wife, Amy, are raising three children on the border in El Paso, and a wall is unnecessary.
“We’ll have to use our power of eminent domain to take our property to build the wall that we don’t need at a time of record security and safety on the border,” O’Rourke said. “The level of northbound apprehensions today is the lowest that it’s been since 1971, the year before our birth. That doesn’t mean we don’t have serious challenges on our borders, and threats against which we must remain vigilant.”
O’Rourke, like he did in Tuesday’s debate with Cruz in San Antonio, prided his work with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on legislation to increase security at ports of entry. Trump disagreed with O’Rourke’s border views in a Wednesday morning assessment of the debate.
“Watched the debate last night & Beto O’Rourke, who wants higher taxes and far more regulations, is not in the sam league with Ted Cruz & what the great people of Texas stand for & want,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Ted is strong on Crime, Border & and 2nd A, loves our Military, Vets, Low Taxes. Beto is a Flake!”
O’Rourke, in responding to a question from a mother who lost her son to a drug overdose, said he wants to end the prohibition on marijuana, “and effectively control and regulate its sale and make sure those who need it for medical purposes are able to obtain it.”
Cruz has knocked O’Rourke for wanting to impeach the president. O’Rourke said he would still vote to impeach Trump today, but the mission of his campaign is not to prosecute the president.
During one intermission, a crowd member yelled out for O’Rourke to run for president in 2020. He smiled and waved his arms, motioning that he did not want to do that. One audience member later asked O’Rourke if he would run for president one day. Before he could answer, the crowd erupted in applause.
“The answer is no,” O’Rourke said, silencing the crowd. “My wife was the only one to clap during that,” citing his desire to raise his children.
Bash followed up.
“It’s a definitive no,” O’Rourke said.
If he loses?
“If I don’t win, we’re back in El Paso,” O’Rourke said.