On issue after issue of real importance to most progressive advocates, Beto O’Rourke is a clear champion who is dedicated to improving the lives of people and working as hard as he can to make progress.
As a three-term congressman representing El Paso, Texas, along the border of the U.S.-Mexico and the border of Texas and New Mexico, O’Rourke has championed numerous causes of importance to his community, including veterans, health care, the victims of child abuse, immigrants, and campaign finance reform.
In his recent campaign for Texas Senate, he traveled month-after-month to all 254 counties in the Lone Star State to hear from Texans who are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, listen carefully to their concerns and needs, and make the case to them we all need to work together for progressive policy change. He cares deeply about the issues and problems facing not only the people of this country but also immigrants like DREAMers in this country and asylum-seekers looking for refuge in our great nation.
If you know Beto, it all makes sense. He comes from a place of which I am quite familiar, as I was also raised in El Paso, Texas (although I was going into high school just as he was entering grade school), which sits at about the mid-point along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The city has a long, rich, and complex history that begins with the Manso, Suma, Jumano, and Tigua Indians and subsequent Spanish exploration by Juan de Oñate in the late 1500’s. El Paso and Cuidad Juárez, Mexico, were initially founded together as the Paso del Norte in 1659. Subsequently, the El Paso region was part of Mexico and finally became part of the United States in the Compromise of 1850.
Consequently, the Paso del Norte region that includes El Paso is a place where people come together across race, color, religion, creed, sex, and disability to address binational problems. Differences of culture, family stories, and background are welcomed, embraced, and valued. This is what drives O’Rourke, and it is in sharp contrast to the lies that other politicians spew about the border, despite the lack of knowledge or understanding of it, for political gain.
O’Rourke is the Opposite of Trump
O’Rourke’s reality stands in sharp juxtaposition to President Trump’s populist, hard line, divisive, us-vs-them, anti-immigrant positions. Max Fisher of the New York Times describes the President’s acrimonious tone as follows:
. . . without a crisis to justify populism’s hard-line policies, its message has been stripped down to its most core element: opposition to liberal ideals of pluralism, multiculturalism and international cooperation.
In contrast to the President’s positions, O’Rourke policy positions promote a number of core progressive values around the ideas of community, empathy, fairness, opportunity, civil rights, fundamental human needs, and generational change.
Whereas others, personified by the President, seek to divide and build walls, O’Rourke looks to find common ground, forge solutions, and build bridges across the political divide. As to this approach to politics, I am an unapologetic supporter for those like O’Rourke who seek to build civility and respect in our political discourse.
Simply stated, while the President strives to divide us, O’Rourke strives to bring us together. In his own words:
You may have seen these attack ads seeking to scare you about what we are trying to do for this State and our country at this critical moment. Now we can be defined by our fears or we can be known by our ambitions. I am confident that when we see each other, not as Democrats or Republicans but as Texans, as Americans, or as human beings, there is no stopping us. That’s why I am running to represent you and everyone in the State of Texas in the United States Senate.
Although he said this in a campaign ad in response to attack ads by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and right-wing groups against him in his campaign for Senate, O’Rourke words might now also apply to some in liberal circles and enclaves outside of Texas who are attacking him for his willingness to work across the political aisle to bring people together to work on bipartisan solutions for our country.
Some have even characterized his bipartisan car trip with Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) from Texas to Washington, D.C. as emblematic of somehow unacceptable or sinister because critics demand unyielding confrontation on all matters over cooperation.
This is irrational because it isn’t an either/or question. At First Focus Campaign for Children, we have worked with Rep. Hurd on some critically important issues for children while also opposing his position on other matters. For example, he has provided important leadership in opposing Trump’s proposed border wall, separating families and putting migrant children in detention centers, and the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and slash Medicaid funding. He also supported reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Those are great things for children that we applauded Hurd for, even though we disagreed with him on some other things, such as his vote in support of H.R. 2581, the Verify First Act, which imposes new citizenship verification barriers for people attempting to access health care tax credits under the ACA.
Although we have sadly reached a point in American politics that it has to be said, you can absolutely work with people on some issues and disagree with them on others without demonizing one another.
Frankly, O’Rourke is smart to work with Hurd and vice versa. Recently, it has proven to be quite important to children. For example, their joint opposition to the Administration’s holding thousands of migrant children apart from family in a tent city in Tornillo, Texas, has played an important role in pushing the Administration to change its policy and release thousands of children from that detention facility and in the facility’s leadership agreeing not to extend its contract with the Trump Administration to detain children any longer.
Their efforts proved to be successful. On January 11, 2019, Hurd broke the news on Twitter that there were no longer any children being held in the Tornillo detention facility.
Thousands of children will no longer be harmed by being warehousing by the Trump Administration due, in large part, to unrelenting pressure by O’Rourke and Hurd. That is important and terrific news and comes out of a bipartisan effort.
In reviewing some of the criticism of O’Rourke as being only “progressive-ish”, a portion of it may be worthy of debate but much of it borders on being ludicrous.
Although a narrow group of critics have tried to point to policy concerns, what has emerged is that their real concerns are that O’Rourke seems willing to reach across the aisle to talk to others, for which he and Hurd received the 2018 Prize for Civility in Public Life, and their fear that his popularity might threaten to take support in the forthcoming 2020 presidential campaign from Bernie Sanders.
Although it may be hard for some to grasp, O’Rourke’s policy positions are focused on the need to get things done for his constituents rather than some ideological test or label. El Paso is majority Hispanic and its residents are disproportionately poor who are desperately working hard and struggling to make a better life for themselves and their children. They also disproportionately live in immigrant households that are under constant assault by this Administration.
The vast majority of El Pasoans, including O’Rourke, newly elected Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, Texas State Sen. José Rodríguez and State Reps. Joe Moody, Mary Gonzalez, Cesar Blanco, and Lina Ortega, are all tired of the ongoing mischaracterization and assault on their border community by the President.
And yet, O’Rourke’s political reality is one in which he is just one of 11 Democrats in a Texas congressional delegation that includes 25 Republicans, two Republican senators, and every statewide elected official is a Republican.
As for the people he represents in his congressional district, although El Pasoans oppose the border wall, oppose separating families and detaining children in cages in Tornillo, Texas, oppose cuts to Medicaid and food stamps, and support protecting DREAMers and increased funding for education, health care, and veterans, El Paso also has a large military base at Fort Bliss, a number of federal employees employed in customs and the border patrol, an large and thriving health care sector, and an economy dependent on positive relationships and trade with Mexico.
Consequently, a number of El Pasoans are conservative. In fact, this may be a surprise to those unfamiliar with Sun City politics, but the current Mayor of El Paso is Republican Dee Margo.
These realities demand the adoption of an agenda that is different from other Democrats that live in or represent cities like San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, or Burlington, Vermont.
Understanding this reality, when O’Rourke was elected, he could have chosen to introduce bills that had no chance of passage in a Republican Congress but that adhered to some form of progressive purity test. But to do so in a pretty conservative Texas congressional delegation and a Republican Congress would not have been successful and that is not acceptable to him because it would fail the very people that are desperately need him to protect them from harm and to make whatever progress he can.
The fact is that people of El Paso need O’Rourke to be both progressive and effective. That he is.
Progressives Should Reassess the Meaning of Success
During the era of Trump, liberals should carefully consider and reassess what the measure of success is. As former senator and presidential candidate Morris Udall said, “When the Democratic Party forms a firing squad, we form a circle.”
Danny Goldberg wrote an article “The Circular Firing Squad Isn’t Amusing Anymore” for The Nation in which he argued for this reconsideration. He explains:
Lefty infighting has been the norm for so long that some progressive have come to view it as a permanent, vaguely endearing fact of life. In the Trump era, such an attitude is not worldly — it is nihilistic.
. . .the alternative to dismantling the circular firing squad is to remain on repetitive, self-righteous tracks obsessed with what Freud called ‘the narcissism of small differences’ while the Trumps and Bannons and Kochs of the world laugh and plunder.
What “small differences” are we talking about here? For example, in an article by David Sirota for The Guardian, he sought to criticize O’Rourke for being “the new Obama.”
In Sirota’s words, “Beto O’Rourke is the new Obama” and having that “would be better than what we have now. But it would still be a tragedy.” He adds that it “would save us from more Trump. But here’s the thing: it would almost certainly still be death.”
A tragedy? Death? Really?
If he is right, it would likely be the result of a liberal circular firing squad.
As for Sirota’s criticism of Obama, the vast majority of progressives love the former president, so I am not sure how that over-the-top criticism is either effective or persuasive to the vast majority of Democrats.
Just a quick reminder, Obama is the only Democratic president to have won over 50 percent of the popular vote in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter did so in 1976 (42 years ago). And Obama did it twice.
Moving on to the policy substance, Sirota claims his other recent article is just a review of O’Rourke’s record. So let’s do that.
What About the Children?
First, I strongly agree with Sirota that analyses of the voting records of prospective candidates (or actually, all candidates for political office) are quite important. However, on the substance of his analysis of O’Rourke’s record, I simply do not agree with his findings — not at all.
First, although Sirota completely ignored children’s issues in his “analysis”, the fact is that most progressives strongly believe kids are an important part of their agenda. And based on that examination, it is clear that O’Rourke would be exponentially better for children than what they are receiving from this Administration.
As part of First Focus Campaign for Children’s (FFCC) Congressional Scorecard, we assign points to key votes, bill introductions, and cosponsorships of key legislation impacting children before Congress. Based on that analysis, the top lawmakers in Congress receive either Champion or Defender status (sort of like the distinction between a grade of A+ or a very strong A) for having made children a top priority and focus of their work. This covers an array of issues, including budget and tax policy, child health, early childhood, education, child abuse and neglect, child nutrition, child poverty, homelessness, juvenile justice, child rights, and immigration.
For example, back in 2014, both Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. O’Rourke were both honored as Champions for Children. In this past Congress, O’Rourke received a Defender award in 2017 and both Sanders and O’Rourke will be Defenders of Children honorees in our soon to be released 2018 Congressional Scorecard.
In a related scorecard by the National Education Association, they gave both Sanders and O’Rourke a grade of A in their analysis of the last Congress.
In short, the children’s advocacy community is appreciative of both of them for their outstanding work on behalf and in support of children over the years in both words and deeds.
And it is important to note, other potential presidential candidates like Sens. Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Tim Kaine, Amy Klobachar, and Elizabeth Warren have all also been Champions and Defenders of Children honorees over the history of the FFCC Congressional Scorecard’s history. Without question, the policies they support would all be significantly better for children than what they are currently experiencing.
In fact, the Trump Administration has been sadly awful on virtually every children’s issue, including shortchanging kids in the federal budget, health care, education, child poverty, gun safety, and immigration.
On this latter issue, the Administration’s policies have been cruel, heartless, inhumane, callous, and catastrophic. Within just the last few weeks, two children seeking asylum died in custody of the federal government, which underscores the Administration’s tragic failure to adhere to basic health and child protection standards for migrant children. That is the real crisis we are witnessing on the U.S.-Mexico border.
And yet, rather than taking action in the best interest of children, the Administration continues to call for the elimination of basic health standards and fundamental protections for the care of children.
If O’Rourke or any of the leading candidates for president in 2020 were elected, it is clear they would be immensely better for children than the current Administration. On Day 1, the mere fact that any of them would replace Betsy DeVos with a new Secretary of Education would be incredibly positive for elementary, high school, and college students all across this country.
O’Rourke Is Also Strong on Health Care Issues
With respect to the issues addressed by Sirota, let’s begin with health care policy. On this issue, some of the critics of O’Rourke have tried to attack him as being insufficiently supportive of “Medicare For All,” even though he repeatedly has time-and-time again opposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), opposed proposals to slash and cap funding for Medicaid, strongly urged Texas to take up the Medicaid expansion as part of Obamacare, supported the reauthorization of CHIP, and expressed strong and unwavering support for “universal, guaranteed, high-quality health care for all” repeatedly in Congress and on the campaign trail for Senate.
In one sentence, he makes his support pretty clear:
Healthcare is a moral question that transcends politics — it is a basic human right, not a privilege.
His specific proposals from his race for Senate included an array of incremental improvements in the short-term to universal coverage in the long-term. They include:
· Improving the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by stabilizing our insurance markets. Guaranteeing continued payments for ACA subsidies that reduce enrollees’ cost-sharing and reimbursing insurers for high-cost individuals.
· Incentivizing insurers to participate in the exchanges, especially in underserved counties.
· Expanding Medicaid to cover more Texans and protecting the Medicaid guarantee for vulnerable children, the disabled, and the elderly.
· Lowering premiums and prescription drug costs by using the government’s purchasing power to make healthcare more affordable for everyone.
· Creating a public option on the exchanges so that Americans are guaranteed affordable coverage.
· Achieving universal healthcare coverage — whether it be through a single payer system, a dual system, or otherwise — so that we can ensure everyone is able to see a provider when it will do the most good and will deliver healthcare in the most affordable, effective way possible.
O’Rourke served on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and his record includes the introduction and cosponsorship of at least 20 bills to improve the health care of our nation’s veterans, including H.R. 411, H.R. 632, H.R. 918, H.R. 1063, H.R. 1064, H.R. 1133, H.R. 1162, H.R. 1371, H.R. 1506, H.R. 1507, H.R. 1508, H.R. 1509, H.R. 1685, H.R. 1790, H.R. 2311, H.R. 2312, H.R. 2652, H.R. 3095, H.R. 4242, and H.R. 5314. The heath care improvements sought by O’Rourke for our nation’s veterans has been extensive, comprehensive, and bipartisan.
Unfortunately, Sirota glossed over these facts and chooses to criticize O’Rourke’s votes on two rather minor bills. For example, he cites O’Rourke’s vote in favor of H.R. 849, Protecting Seniors Access to Medicare Act, which would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). Let’s dive into the details of this bill that Sirota highlights.
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the IPAB was established and tasked with developing proposals that would cut costs in order to meet a rather arbitrary rate of per capita growth in Medicare spending.
H.R. 849 would eliminate the IPAB and it passed the House by a vote of 307–111 with extensive support from a number of members of the House Progressive Caucus, including: Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Val Demings (D-FL), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rick Nolan (D-MN), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Linda Sánchez (D-CA), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), Darren Soto (D-FL), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).
So no, a vote for this legislation was absolutely not a vote to undermine or “chip away” at Obamacare, as Sirota argues. Not in the least.
In fact, some of those progressive House members voting for H.R. 849 pointed out that the IPAB was required to make recommendations to Congress to make cuts to the Medicare program to meet some arbitrary cap in the among of growth in the program. This vote occurred on the heels of Democrats arguing strongly against Republican proposals to impose a per capita cap or limit on the Medicaid program. In other words, repealing the IPAB protects Medicare from arbitrary cuts and is consistent with their opposition to Trump’s proposed cuts to Medicaid.
It is also important to highlight the provision only impacts Medicare and is not an issue in which I can find that AARP has ever taken a formal position.
But if Sirota had looked more closely into the issue, he would have found an even more interesting fact, which is that the lead sponsor of a bill to repeal the IPAB in the Senate is none other than Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Democratic Ranking Member on the Senate Finance Committee. His legislation, Protecting Medicare from Executive Action Act of 2017 (S. 251), had 14 cosponsors — all Democrats.
As Wyden explains:
Given the Trump administration’s short but disturbing record of irresponsible and cruel executive actions, it would be a huge mistake to leave in place the authority to push through harmful cuts to Medicare with minimal input from Congress. The president has picked people to lead his health care team at HHS, including Congressman Tom Price (who has since resigned), who have long records of supporting policies that would shift cost to seniors and other vulnerable Americans. I am deeply concerned about their commitment to the promise of Medicare — a promise of guaranteed health benefits for seniors and vulnerable Americans who count on it.
I am not attempting to make the case that either protection of or repeal of the IPAB is progressive, but that there is clearly a dispute among liberals over the policy. My point is that any candidate’s position on the IPAB — an entity that hasn’t ever even been functioning — should not couched as some sort of litmus test on whether one is a progressive or not on health care issues.
Thus, based on the totality of his record, O’Rourke has proven to be a strong progressive voice on health care policy.
Protecting Immigrants Is More Progressive than Polygraph Testing
On immigration issues, any true and fair analysis would easily reach the conclusion that Rep. O’Rourke’s record is among the strongest and most progressive in Congress.
Frankly, he clearly understands the border better than anyone that is currently being discussed as possible presidential candidates. He grew up there.
In addition, O’Rourke strongly supports DREAMers and fundamental rights and protections for immigrants. Consequently, based on his lifetime record, the horribly anti-immigrant NumbersUSA gives him a 0 on its scorecard. That would a perfect score for progressives.
The fact is that any fair analysis of O’Rourke’s immigration record would also highlight that O’Rourke was part of a small group of Democrats who were willing to push the Obama Administration to improve its policies related to important immigration issues, such as child detention and protections for LGBT immigrant youth.
Furthermore, during the last two years, O’Rourke has personally led many of the fights against Trump’s anti-immigrant and deportation agenda. He has been among the most articulate and visible policymakers in the entire nation in opposition to Trump’s push for a border wall, the separation of migrant children from their parents, the harm being imposed on children held in internment camps and tent cities, and the deportation of DREAMers and veterans who have served our country.
In doing so, O’Rourke speaks to our nation’s values, our need to embrace and value diversity, to oppose racism and xenophobia, to understand how communities like El Paso are among the safest in the entire country because of immigrants, and the harmful costs and negative consequences of the anti-immigrant policies of the Trump Administration, which includes the death of two children in recent weeks.
O’Rourke could not be more clear as to where he stands than in this video clip.
Beto has also backed up his words with deeds. On nearly two dozen pieces of legislation, O’Rourke has been a lead sponsor, lead cosponsor, or cosponsor in promoting progress on immigration issues while simultaneously opposing the Trump Administration anti-immigrant agenda.
The list (H.R. 489, H.R. 496, H.R. 837, H.R. 852, H.R. 858, H.R. 1063, H.R. 1405, H.R. 1487, H.R. 1608, H.R. 2043, H.R. 2788, H.R. 3020, H.R. 3227, H.R. 3429, H.R. 3440, H.R. 3695, H.R. 3923, H.R. 3943, H.R. 4253, H.R. 4944, H.R. 5414, H.R. 6135, and H.R. 6193) is extensive and covers a number of critically important bills supportive of immigrant children, families, and veterans and against religious discrimination.
These 23 prominent bills — all of which O’Rourke either sponsored or cosponsored — were introduced in partnership with numerous Democrats and some Republicans.
O’Rourke also opposed the problematic Verify First Act, which was mentioned earlier.
And yet, despite this incredibly strong and extensive record on immigration issues, Sirota’s “analysis” doesn’t even bother to acknowledge a single one of this all-encompassing list of bills other than to say that Beto’s campaign website says he wants to “pass the DREAM Act.”
Instead, when it comes to immigration policy, Sirota’s entire focus in his criticism of O’Rourke was based on a vote on the single, solitary issue of whether all U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) job applicants should be subjected to mandatory multi-hour polygraph testing.
Ironically, Sirota’s focus on that single bill doesn’t even make his case. In fact, if you are a progressive reading this, you might be quite surprised as to which side that Sirota actually takes in this debate.
First, as background, you should know that the ACLU has opposed the requirement that job applicants be subjected to polygraph testing as a condition of employment since the 1950s and continues to oppose them. Lie detector tests are unreliable, intrusive, and have imposed personal damage to job applicants due to false positives. Evidence also shows that polygraph testing is no better than junk science.
As the ACLU’s Jay Stanley explains:
. . . even if the polygraph were to pass an acceptable threshold of reliability or a more accurate lie-detection technology were to come along, we would still oppose it because we view techniques for peering inside the human mind as a violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, as well as a fundamental affront to human dignity.
Moreover, in October, Wired published an extensive analysis that was highly critical of polygraph testing. Author Mark Harris points out that the history of polygraph testing is a disturbing one. Hayes writes:
During the Cold War, federal polygraph tests were used to target left-wingers and homosexuals in government agencies.
Today, polygraph testing is, according to Harris:
. . .largely inadmissible in court and it’s illegal for most private companies to consult them. Over the past century, scientists have debunked the polygraph, proving again and again that the test can’t reliably distinguish truth from falsehood. At best, it is a roll of the dice; at worst, it’s a vessel for test administrators to project their own beliefs.
In fact, the Wired investigation found a great deal of evidence that polygraph testing promotes and enables racial bias in employment. Harris cites a testimony in a U.S. Senate hearing by the New York attorney general in 1987 where he explained:
The [polygraph] operator’s prejudices, moods and feelings can strongly influence and even determine the outcome of the test. For example, we have received complaints about a polygraph operator who consistently fails a much higher percentage of black subjects than white subjects.
Worse than just creating new avenues for racial bias, programs like these also hide racial bias by couching it behind a veneer of scientific objectivity.
One former FBI agent worked for the Bureau for a number of years but failed a polygraph test upon trying to return to the FBI. He declared that he was a victim of a false positive from the test that had the effect of ending his career. The former agent wrote:
I told the truth during the polygraph exam. How can I prove it? How can I prove I did not lie? In many ways this situation is worse than being accused of a crime. If I were accursed of a crime I would at least have a chance to face my accuser, present evidence and be judged by a jury of my peers. This is not the case with a polygraph. The machine is the accuser, the judge and the jury. . . .
Based on this background, it seems that progressives would oppose mandatory polygraph testing as a condition of employment. Right?
Well, brace yourself but you might be surprised to find out that Sirota takes the position in support of mandatory lie detector tests. He also argues that a vote allowing any waivers from lie detector testing for people such as veterans, which H.R. 2213, the Anti-Border Corruption Reauthorization Act of 2017 would allow, is akin to voting “for a key portion of Donald Trump’s deportation force.”
That is simply false.
O’Rourke explained his support for allowing exemptions from mandatory polygraph testing by pointing out that CBP loses many qualified job applicants because the process takes on average 383 days to fill one job, “which involves 12 different steps such as an entrance exam, background check, and a polygraph exam.”
For example, if a veteran with 3 years of honorable service previously held a security clearance and passed a background check during time in the military, the CBP Commissioner could on a case-by-case basis opt to waive the polygraph test for the position. The veteran would still be subject to 11 other hiring requirements. The Commissioner could also do this for local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel who meet high standards of service and have passed background checks throughout their careers.
Since Sirota says he likes to quote “House Democrats on the floor of the House arguing why these Republican bills should be voted down,” it is interesting that he failed to quote from a floor statement by the Democrat who was the Ranking Member on the committee of jurisdiction, Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX) in favor of H.R. 2213, but I will. Here is an excerpt of Rep. Vela’s statement from the Congressional Record.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 2213, the Anti-Border Corruption Reauthorization Act of 2017.
I have forcefully rejected the President’s mass deportation efforts from the beginning, and I will continue to do so.
Many of us have appropriately criticized our President for wrongfully attributing the criminal actions of a few undocumented individuals to the entire undocumented population. Equally here, it would be hypocritical to attribute the criminal actions of a few rogue agents to the hardworking men and women that protect our Nation every day and who uphold the ethical standards that we should expect.
The Anti-Border Corruption Reauthorization Act of 2017 will assist CBP in fulfilling its mission to facilitate legitimate trade and travel at our ports of entry.
According to the Joint Economic Committee, the volume of commerce crossing our borders has more than tripled in the last 25 years. Currently, 1.1 million people and $5.9 billion in goods enter and exit the U.S. at 328 U.S. ports of entry every day.
This is obviously critically important to the economy on people who live on the border and that both Reps. Vela and O’Rourke represent. Vela continues:
CBP has struggled with recruiting the officers and agents to fill its frontline ranks at our Nation’s air, land, and seaports. Currently, there are 1,400 unfilled positions within the CBP workforce at our Nation’s ports of entry. Delays and short staffing at our ports of entry costs the United States economy up to $5.8 billion each year.
Under this bill, the CBP Commissioner may, on a case-by-case basis, exempt certain veterans and State and local law enforcement officers who meet specific standards, such as holding a security clearance and previously passing a polygraph, from having to take the CBP polygraph as a part of the hiring process. All other vetting requirements in the 12-step hiring process for these applicants will still apply.
This bill simply grants CBP limited authority to waive a single step in its robust vetting process for qualifying applicants who hold security clearances or who have successfully completed polygraphs.
Again, my point here is not to take sides in the debate over polygraph testing, but to point out that many progressives not only disagree with Sirota’s expression of opposition to exemptions for mandatory pre-employment polygraph testing, but take the opposite position of supporting a complete ban on such testing, just as Democratic-led Congress did for private sector employment when it passed the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988.
In light of clear disagreement in the progressive community over the merits of polygraph testing, a vote on exempting a limited class of job applicants for government employment on a case-by-case basis hardly merits it becoming a sole litmus test for what is deemed to be progressive on immigration issues.
Moreover, whether a legislator votes for or against H.R. 2213, neither position should detract from O’Rourke’s stellar record in support of the DREAM Act, stopping the separation of children from their families, protecting the health care, rights, and basic fundamental protections of children applying for asylum, ending the Muslim ban, and protecting veterans from being deported.
So yes, let’s debate the record, but the fact is that Beto O’Rourke’s record on immigration issues is exemplary and likely unsurpassed among potential presidential candidates.
In fact, it is actually quite surprising that Sirota even brought immigration up. For example, as Sirota knows, immigration policy is an issue in which Sen. Sanders’s past record has been much weaker and strongly criticized. There is little doubt that O’Rourke has been far more active and progressive on immigration issues than Sanders.
On the other hand, it is definitely an area in which Sanders has positively evolved over time. For example, here are both O’Rourke’s and Sen. Sanders’s strong responses to the President’s statement about the present government shutdown over Trump’s demand for an expansion of the border wall.
O’Rourke Is Also Progressive on An Array of Other Policy Issues
Beyond children’s, health care, and immigration issues, O’Rourke is also a progressive on an array of other issue areas.
For example, progressive women might be interested that Planned Parenthood gave Rep. O’Rourke a 100 percent lifetime voting record in their Congressional Scorecard. And on labor issues, Beto’s career cumulative record is 95 percent with AFSCME and 94 percent with the AFL-CIO.
Critics have also attacked O’Rourke’s record on environmental issues as being evidence of his being a “neo-liberal.” However, once again, major environmental and conservation groups have given him high scores on their voter scorecards. The League of Conservative Voters (LCV) gives him a 95 percent lifetime score.
In LCV’s endorsement of O’Rourke in his Texas Senate race, LCV Action Fund Senior Vice President Tiernan Sittenfeld said:
Beto O’Rourke has been a consistent champion for our right to clean air, water and conservation of public lands. He has fought tirelessly to protect the health of communities across Texas and invest in renewable energy and clean jobs. We need climate action advocates like O’Rourke now more than ever. We are thrilled to endorse him for Senate.
In the end, there will be much analysis and vetting of the candidates to challenge Donald Trump in the presidential race in 2020.
First, I can only ask and hope that journalists consider and include the issues of importance to children as part of that analysis. For too often, the issues of importance for children are ignored or taken for granted.
Second, it would help if journalists would fairly analysis both the pros and cons of the totality of candidate positions and not just pull one or two solitary votes out of context to criticize while ignoring an enormous record of votes that are far more important. That is simply fair and something real progressives embrace as a core value.
And finally, I have no idea whether or not O’Rourke will decide to run for president or not. However, although First Focus Campaign for Children will not and cannot take any formal positions in the race for president, I will simply say, in my personal capacity, that there is no doubt that Beto O’Rourke would be significantly better for our children than our current president.
Disclosure: I grew up in El Paso and worked for Beto’s father, Pat O’Rourke, when he was the El Paso County Judge in 1995–1996. Also, when I was a legislative assistant to Rep. Ronald Coleman (D-TX) in either 2000–2001, Beto was an intern in the office during the summer.
Update: This blog was written in partial response to David Sirota’s attack pieces on O’Rourke’s record. Since Beto has been a FFCC Champion for Children, I felt it was important to correct the record on the issues of children, health care, and immigration policy (three issue areas in which I have worked for three decades and are important to kids). Relevant to this discussion, on March 19, 2019, there was this announcement. I am glad he is concerned about “our children” in this statement.