U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, attacked President Donald Trump’s immigration and trade plans last week as a threat to the U.S. and Mexico economies.
“In my lifetime, and I’m 44 years old, we’ve never had such a serious situation at our U.S.-Mexico border in our bilateral relationship with Mexico,” O’Rourke told reporters Friday outside the Texas Capitol. “When you begin with the premise that Mexico is sending rapists and criminals to the U.S. and you meet that with a wall, that wall in itself is a racist reaction to a racist myth that does not reflect the reality of this country at all.”
O’Rourke, a former El Paso City Council member who is in his third term in Congress, said he has been traveling the state and is considering running against Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 election.
Proposals that would limit trade with Mexico, like the 20 percent tax on Mexican imports that Trump’s press secretary floated on Thursday, could be disastrous for the North American economy, costing jobs in the U.S. and fueling illegal immigration by destabilizing the Mexican economy, O’Rourke said.
“There are 6 million jobs nationally, just under 500,000 in the state of Texas and one out of four in the community that I represent that are dependent on U.S.-Mexico trade,” O’Rourke said. “A border wall, a 20 percent border tariff, a trade war with Mexico, dropping out of NAFTA — all of those things jeopardize jobs.”
O’Rourke, who unseated incumbent Democratic Congressman Silvestre Reyes to win his seat, has advocated for a shake-up in the House Democratic leadership and was part of the unsuccessful push for the caucus to replace Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Following Republicans’ success in the November elections, Democrats in Congress have been debating how to proceed on strategies like whether to obstruct Trump as Republicans did Obama and whether to move away from an identity politics-focused strategy and toward one based on middle-class voters.
By calling Trump “racist” for his views on Mexican-Americans and also urging Democrats to appeal to persuadable white Trump voters, O’Rourke on Friday seemed to be seeking a middle ground.
“What I would urge the Democratic Party leadership to do is to spend more time listening to people, listening to those Trump voters who are not bad people, who don’t maliciously hate the border or Mexico,” he said. “We need to be there as well in middle America, in rural counties, in suburban Texas.”
If O’Rourke runs for Senate next year, it could add to the hurdles facing Cruz, who is struggling to find his place in a GOP that chose Trump over him in the presidential race and might also face a 2018 primary challenge from U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin.