At a town hall in El Paso on Monday, Beto O'Rourke made his first public appearance since losing his Senate race to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz earlier this month. Given the narrow, and high-profile nature of O'Rourke's Senate defeat, one might've expected the soon-to-be former U.S. House representative to play it cool and ignore the mounting speculation about his political future.
That's exactly what he did, at least for a while, but as O'Rourke loosened up to both his constituents and media in attendance, he gave the clearest signs yet that he has plans for 2020.
During the town hall — one of 102 O'Rourke has held in his district since winning election in 2012 — audience members repeatedly asked O'Rourke to run for president in two years. Eventually, O'Rourke responded to their questions.
"That's what we're focused on now. Being together as a family, making sure that I deliver everything that I can to the people I represent until the 3rd of January," O'Rourke said. "Then, Amy and I will think about what we can do next to contribute to the best of our ability to this community."
Then O'Rourke turned to Amy, his wife, with a smile on his face.
"How was that? Was that good?" O'Rourke asked.
O'Rourke's obvious refusal to rule out a run for the White House contradicts a series of statements he made during his campaign against Cruz. On Nov. 5, the day before the midterms, O'Rourke told a group of reporters in Houston that there was no way he would run for president, regardless of whether he was elected to the Senate.
"I will not be a candidate for president in 2020," he said. "That's as definitive as those sentences get."
Speaking with reporters after the town hall, O'Rourke admitted that his answer has changed in the three weeks since the election.
"Now that that is no longer possible, we’re thinking through a number of things, and Amy and I made a decision not to rule anything out," O'Rourke said. "The best advice I received from people who’ve run for, and won — and run for, and lost — elections like this, is: Don’t make any decisions about anything until you’ve had some time to hang with your family and just be human. And so I am following that advice."
In addition to holding the town hall, O'Rourke also posted a second essay to his Medium blog, this time responding to the ongoing asylum crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
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"Let’s do this the right way and follow our own laws. Allow asylum seekers to petition for asylum at our ports of entry. They must do so peacefully and follow our laws; but we must also ensure the capacity to effectively and timely process those claims (right now 5,000 are waiting in Tijuana, and only 40 to 100 are processed a day)," O'Rourke wrote. "Those who have a credible fear of returning to their home country (as determined by a U.S. judge) will be able to stay until their full asylum request has been determined. Those applicants ultimately granted asylum will then live in the U.S., make us a better country for being here, and those who are not granted asylum will be returned to their home country."
O'Rourke seems to be giving in to, or at least enjoying, the speculation about his future that pops up everywhere one might turn in the political world. Last week, former president Barack Obama talked up O'Rourke, and the race he'd just run, on an episode of David Axelrod's podcast The Axe Files.
"Impressive young man who ran a terrific race in Texas," Obama said of O'Rourke. "What I liked most about his race was that it didn't feel constantly poll-tested. ... It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed. And that, you'd like to think, is normally how things work. Sadly it's not."
Obama then compared O'Rourke to himself, before commenting more generally on who might run in 2020.
“The reason I was able to make a connection with a sizable portion of the country was because people had a sense that I said what I meant,” he said. “What I oftentimes am looking for first and foremost is, do you seem to mean it?”