SIOUX CENTER—The Fruited Plain Cafe in Sioux Center was packed Saturday, July 20, with rain-soaked people who gathered to hear from 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.
During his speech and in his answers to public questions, O’Rourke stuck to four main topics: a call for unity, continuing work on immigration and addressing the border crisis, better provide for the nation’s health care and mental health care needs and the need to confront climate change.
In his political experience, O’Rourke said you can’t write anybody or anyplace off, including immigrants.
“All of us came at some point in our family’s history from someplace else,” O’Rourke said. “You may be able to trace it back 300 years to when your ancestors were kidnapped in West Africa, brought here in bondage and forced to literally build the foundation of the wealth of this country. You may, like the O’Rourke’s, have come here during the 19th century, fleeing famine and certain starvation in Ireland, which consumed more than a million people. But you came to this place because we took you in and we understood that when you come here, people are better for it. We lose sight of that at our own peril.”
The practice of separating parents and children in ICE detention facilities is something he promised to halt if elected.
“We’re doing this to these kids,” O’Rourke said. “We’ve already lost the lives of six children who were in our custody, completely defenseless and vulnerable and desperate, all in the wealthiest, most powerful country on the face of the planet, doing this to the least of these. This cannot be us going forward. We can take no solace that the decision was made by one man, the president of the United States, because in a democracy, government of, by and for the people, every single day that this persists, it is on every single one of us.”
He encouraged activism to bring more attention to such detention centers and the conditions there, saying, “It changes the practices of this country and forms political pressure to make sure that we live up to our potential and fulfill our promise.”
Going on, he said work must be done to rewrite immigration law “in our own image,” and that any price should be paid to work to reunite families separated at the border.
“Let’s spare no expense, including bringing some of those parents back who’ve been deported to Guatemala or El Salvador or Honduras so they can join their kids right now,” O’Rourke said.
Americans must be guaranteed access to medical and mental health care, O’Rourke argued.
“Some have tried to offer a false choice,” he said. “Either you keep the status quo or even roll back the Affordable Care Act, or you get rid of it all together, going to a single-payer system.”
His solution is a plan called Medicare for America.
“What if we said that for the tens of millions of our fellow Americans who can get no care at all today, we immediately enroll you in Medicare?” he said. “Those of you who are insufficiently insured, you cannot afford that copay or that premium, you can’t bridge that deductible, you’re able to enroll in Medicare as well.”
Those who like their current insurance plans would be able to remain on them, he claimed.
In his time in the Midwest, he said he’s seen and heard of the impact climate change has had on the region. He cited flooding throughout the Midwest as one way climate change has economically harmed farmers already struggling under various trade wars.
During the question-and-answer segment, he said that the national debt must be addressed by nixing “the worst” of President Donald Trump’s tax cuts.
“So, the corporate rate that went from 35 percent down to 21 percent? We don’t need to take all the way back up, but if we got to 28 percent, we would generate hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years to invest in people, communities, education and health care to make this country more resilient and to make sure that this economy truly includes every single one of us,” O’Rourke said.
When asked about student loan debt, he called it unsustainable. He said the first two years of college education should be “completely free” and a four-year education should be debt free.
When asked about the Middle East, O’Rourke said Trump has done great harm by not cooperating with other countries in the region.
Namely, he said escalations from Iran, including the recent seizure of a British oil tanker, are tied to Trump’s withdrawal from the Obama administration’s 2015 nuclear deal with the country.
“Peacefully and diplomatically, we were able to bring all of the stakeholders, including our enemies, to the table and resolve that otherwise intractable problem,” O’Rourke said. “By withdrawing America, we’ve isolated this country. We’re no longer working with our allies, we no longer have a channel of communication with Iran. If we go to war with that country, the body count will not be in the hundreds or the thousands.”
O’Rourke proposed returning to negotiations with Iran to reach a peaceful resolution to current tensions.