U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D), who is challenging Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate next year, held a town hall gathering before a full crowd at the Roundup Inn (in the Will Rogers Complex) in Fort Worth, Friday, August 11, 2017. Paul Moseley pmoseley@star-telegram.com
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D), who is challenging Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate next year, held a town hall gathering before a full crowd at the Roundup Inn (in the Will Rogers Complex) in Fort Worth, Friday, August 11, 2017. Paul Moseley pmoseley@star-telegram.com

State Politics

O’Rourke concerned president may ‘sleepwalk or tweet’ country into war

By Anna M. Tinsley

atinsley@star-telegram.com

August 11, 2017 07:54 PM

UPDATED August 11, 2017 08:52 PM

FORT WORTH

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke doesn’t want President Donald Trump to steer the country into war with North Korea, if that can be avoided.

That’s why O’Rourke, a Democrat challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for his Senate seat next year, said he plans to ask House Speaker Paul Ryan to cut short the August work session and bring members back to weigh in on the situation.

“We must not allow this president to sleepwalk this country, or tweet this country, into war with North Korea,” O’Rourke told the Star-Telegram Friday night before holding a town hall that drew more than 500 people to the Will Rogers Memorial Center.

O’Rourke, a punk rocker turned congressman from El Paso, said he’d like to be in Washington, D.C., with colleagues “so we can debate the wisdom of going to war with North Korea.”

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The president recently said he is prepared to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea, which threatened to launch missiles in the direction of Guam, a US territory. Trump also tweeted that “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely.”

“Either we give the president that authority or we withhold that authority,” O’Rourke told the Star-Telegram. “But we cannot allow him to drag us in ... a reckless, provocative way that he seems to be doing on Twitter.”

O’Rourke is traveling around the state, holding town hall meetings and campaign events, hoping to hear from Texans about their concerns.

Some criticized Friday night’s gathering, which was moved at the last minute from Benbrook to Fort Worth, calling it a thinly veiled campaign event. Unlike other town hall meetings, O’Rourke’s gathering was mostly made up mostly of supporters.

Tarrant County

O’Rourke said he knows his Senate bid is an uphill battle in a state where no Democrat has won a statewide office since 1994.

And Tarrant County — one of the reddest communities around — may be a key to victory.

“I don’t know that any candidate statewide in Texas can do well unless they do well in Tarrant County,” he said before the town hall. “I really think this is the key to the state and that explains why I’ve been here so much, why I’m listening so much and why we’ve been in different parts of Tarrant County.

“We continue to come back,” O’Rourke said. “This won’t be the last time you see me.”

O’Rourke hopes to make inroads into the North Texas mainstay of support for Cruz.

Cruz has long appealed to Republicans and others looking for anti-establishment candidates here, in what some describe as the “Tea Party hotbed” of Tarrant, Dallas and Denton counties, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

“Beto O’Rourke will be moving around the state between now and election day. As many times as he can get to as many parts of the state, that’s all good,” Jillson said. “He’s an El Paso congressman not well known in the rest of the state.

“He’s trying to imbed his name in people’s minds,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

The most recent campaign finance reports show O’Rourke out raised Cruz, $2.1 million to $1.6 million, between April and June.

Cruz — a former presidential candidate whose strongholds have long included the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex — has been quick to point out that he has much more in the bank than his Democratic challenger.

“O’Rourke is not here because he thinks he can beat Cruz in Tarrant, Denton and Dallas counties,” Jillson said. “But he only wants to lose 58-42” instead of by larger margins.

Local concerns

Local residents, many wearing blue shirts, told O’Rourke they are worried about issues ranging from the estate tax to the potential environmental impact from the wall President Trump has said will be built on the border.

One woman said she’d like the country’s cannabis prohibition to end.

“We absolutely need to end the prohibition of marijuana in this country,” O’Rourke said.

Another concern: the ongoing health care debate.

Harriette O’Connor, a Fort Worth woman who helped co-found Texas Women Against Trump, said she’s mad.

“I’m outraged that my hard-earned taxpayer money goes to pay for multimillionaire salaries of CEOs of Aetna ... and Blue Cross/Blue Shield,” said O’Connor, 80, a retired local doctor. “We don’t need the health care market, Beto.

“We need Medicare for everybody.”

O’Rourke said he heard and understood O’Connor’s concerns.

“We’ve got to stabilize what we have,” he told the crowd. “And we need to improve.

“Thank you for being the voice of sanity ... in this country.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley