Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) on Thursday described racism and gun violence as existential threats to the U.S. and said he would resume his presidential campaign with a focus on visiting immigrant communities he said have been “terrorized” by President TrumpDonald TrumpDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors Former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz elected to Baseball Hall of Fame Overnight Health Care — Senators unveil pandemic prep overhaul MORE.
O’Rourke has been off the campaign trail to comfort residents in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, since the Aug. 3 mass shooting at a Walmart left 22 people dead. The Texas Democrat has explicitly blamed Trump for the deaths, saying the president’s rhetoric toward immigrants inspired the alleged shooter.
O’Rourke’s response in his hometown after the incident has reminded many Democrats of his promise as a political leader in Texas, and there have been calls for him to abandon his struggling presidential campaign to challenge Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenators huddle on Russia sanctions as tensions escalate Momentum builds for new COVID-19 relief for businesses Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products MORE (R-Texas), who is up for reelection in 2020.
But speaking outdoors with the El Paso skyline behind him, O’Rourke rejected those calls, saying instead he would relaunch his presidential campaign with a focus on taking on Trump in immigrant communities.
O’Rourke said he would not make time in his schedule for what he described as frivolous political events, such as the Iowa State Fair, but rather would go to the places impacted by Trump’s policies, starting in Mississippi, where hundreds of people suspected to be in the country illegally were arrested last week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“There have been some who have suggested that I stay in El Paso and run for Senate," O’Rourke said. “But that would not be good enough for this community ... we must take this fight directly to the source of this problem. The person who has caused this pain and placed this country in the moment of peril, and that is Donald Trump.”
“As we head back to the campaign trail today, I know there is a way to do this better,” O’Rourke continued. “To those places where Donald Trump has been terrorizing ... our fellow Americans, that’s where you’ll find me and this campaign. From El Paso, we’re heading to Mississippi to be with those families who have lost a loved one ... because of the hostility of this administration to immigrants ... anyone this president puts down, we will do our best to lift up.”
O’Rourke was unsparing in his criticism of Trump, detailing the president’s myriad racial controversies and warning that racism in the U.S. would lead to more violence against immigrants.
“I’m confident that if at this moment we do not wake up to this threat, then we as a country will die in our sleep,” O’Rourke said.
He also blamed Congress and Washington for failing to enact stricter gun laws.
“We have a Congress too craven to act, a democracy not up to the task that favors those who can pay for access and influence and outcomes,” O’Rourke said. “There is a complicity in the silence of those who are in positions of public trust.”
To address gun violence, O’Rourke proposed universal background checks, a “red flag” law aimed at derailing potential mass shooters before they act, ending the sale of “assault weapons and weapons of war” and a buyback program to take back guns from people who already have them.
“These weapons were designed to kill people as effectively, efficiently and as many as possible, and that’s exactly what they’re doing,” O’Rourke said.
The speech and relaunch come at a critical moment for O’Rourke’s presidential campaign.
There have been calls from some in Texas for O’Rourke, who electrified Lone Star liberals in 2018 by nearly unseating Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHow Cruz Supreme Court case could lead to unlimited anonymous election spending Poll: Trump leads 2024 Republican field with DeSantis in distant second The politics of 'mind control' MORE (R-Texas), to quit the presidential race and instead challenge Cornyn.
"Drop out of the race for president and come back to Texas to run for senator," the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board wrote this week. "The chances of winning the race you’re in now are vanishingly small. And Texas needs you."
But O’Rourke said on Thursday that the tragedy in El Paso has provoked him to redouble his commitment to running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Texas Democrat has at times been emotional in demanding reform for gun laws and denouncing the president as a racist who he says has inspired white nationalist violence against racial minorities.
A video of O’Rourke embracing a witness to the El Paso shooting and giving the man his phone number received a lot of attention online.
On Thursday, O’Rourke told several personal stories about his interactions with survivors of the shooting and with those who lost loved ones.
A separate clip of O’Rourke chastising the media for being too soft on Trump also went viral.
“You know the shit he’s been saying,” O’Rourke said to reporters. “He’s been calling Mexican immigrants ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals.’ I dunno, like members of the press, What the f---? ... It’s these questions that you know the answers to. ... He’s not ‘tolerating’ racism, he is promoting racism.”
But O’Rourke faces a steep climb to the Democratic presidential nomination, and there are doubts that he will be able to recapture his standing as a top contender in the race.
After raising $6.1 million in the first 24 hours after launching his presidential campaign in March, O’Rourke’s fundraising dried up in the second quarter, and he raised only $3.4 million between April and June. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Airlines suspend US flights in response to 5G deployment AT&T, Verizon to delay 5G rollout near certain airports MORE (D) paced the field, raising $24.8 million in the second quarter.
O’Rourke is languishing in the low single digits in national and early-state polls, although he is still running strong in his home state of Texas, a delegate-rich Super Tuesday state that will vote after the first four contests. Still, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors On The Money — Vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses nixed Warner tests positive for breakthrough COVID-19 case MORE has a healthy lead over the Democratic field in Texas, with O’Rourke in second place in most polls there.
O’Rourke is one of nine candidates so far who have qualified for the third round of Democratic presidential primary debates in Houston next month.
Updated at 11:07 a.m.