RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
When Beto O'Rourke announced he was running for president, there was a whole lot of hype. He even landed on the cover of Vanity Fair. O'Rourke is hoping to ride the national reputation he earned after giving Texas Senator Ted Cruz a run for his money in the 2018 Senate race. More recently, he has been overshadowed by Democratic rivals, though.
NOEL KING, HOST:
So now O'Rourke is rolling out policy proposals to show the substance that his critics say he lacks. To fight climate change, for example, he wants to set a goal of a carbon-neutral United States by 2050. And he wants to be halfway there by 2030 in just over 10 years. He talked to Steve Inskeep as part of our Opening Arguments series.
BETO O'ROURKE: Some country is going to innovate the technologies that we need to meet the challenge of climate change - might be the United States. It might be China. I certainly want to invest in our future and our ability to corner that market and ensure that we command the solutions that this world will need. It's not just a matter of national pride. It's the jobs, the economic growth that is connected to that. And it's also ensuring that we meet this challenge for the generations that follow.
STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: You've compared the challenges of now to the Greatest Generation challenges of the Depression and World War II, which was a time of sacrifice.
INSKEEP: When you talk to scientists about what would be necessary to get to zero carbon emissions, they often talk about people having to change their daily behaviors. Drive an electric car. That's not such a bad change. Live in a smaller house. People might feel uncomfortable with that. Have fewer children. Eat less meat. Are you not going to demand any sacrifice from anyone in order to get to zero carbon emissions?
O'ROURKE: Yeah. We're going to have to make an investment as a country. It is not going to necessarily be easy. Here's our generation's opportunity to meet a true existential threat of this moment. And I'm confident that that's going to bring out the absolute best in us - nothing to be afraid of, something to meet head on and to overcome and to do it together.
INSKEEP: Your state's big industry - oil - is going to be fine.
O'ROURKE: My state's big industry is going to have to transition into its other big industry. We generate more wind power than any other state in the union. As we free ourselves from that dependence on fossil fuels, we're going to see more of my fellow Texans and fellow Americans transition into renewable energy jobs; high-demand, high-skill, high-wage occupations. And I think it's really important that we invest in the training to make sure that we have the skilled workforce that's ready to take on this global challenge.
INSKEEP: Are you not going to tell anyone in America, you just need to live in a little smaller house? It needs to be closer to work. And therefore, it's going to have to be smaller. You might want to think about having your third kid.
O'ROURKE: As president, I'm not going to tell you what kind of home that you live in or what you're going to have for dinner, but I hope to inspire you to do everything within your power to meet the greatest challenge that we have ever faced with the knowledge that if we fail to do that, to make every use of American innovation and service and, yes, sacrifice over the next 10 years, then the fires and the storms and the floods and the droughts that we see right now will pale in comparison to what our kids and grandkids experience.
INSKEEP: Why does your plan say that you will rely heavily on executive action?
O'ROURKE: Because we don't have time to waste. And there's some things that are under the purview of the administration - for example, ensuring that we do not have any new oil and gas leases on federal lands. Not only is that the best thing to do, that's clearly the responsibility of the president and the necessary departments and agencies that can make sure that we're meeting this challenge.
INSKEEP: In 2014, as you know, President Obama attempted to legalize the status of millions of people in the United States illegally through executive action. And you approved of the idea but disapproved of the method. Your quote was, the motive is noble, but the means are really hard to stomach. Do you still believe that?
O'ROURKE: I do. But to the spirit of your question, we need congressional action. Our laws must reflect our reality, our values, the fact that we are a country of immigrants and asylum-seekers and refugees from the world over. And we lose that at our peril.
INSKEEP: So you will take the actions that you found hard to stomach...
INSKEEP: ...Five years ago.
O'ROURKE: Yeah. I'm going to do what's right, regardless of how difficult it is. But I would also go to the heart of the problem in Guatemala, in El Salvador, in Honduras, and ensure that we're working collaboratively with communities and address the fact that they are trying to survive one of the worst droughts we have ever seen in this part of the world. In other words, we should be able to address this challenge there.
INSKEEP: You've already moved over a little bit to foreign policy here in referencing the Western Hemisphere. Let me go beyond that to the rest of the world. If you're elected president, what part of the world would be most important for you to get right?
O'ROURKE: Let's make sure that the people to whom we are connected by land, by language increasingly, by family is a priority for the United States. As we've prioritized other parts of the world, as we find ourselves in endless wars - 28 years and counting in Iraq through six successive presidential administrations, 18 years and counting in Afghanistan - we have disregarded this hemisphere. And whether you look at the moral imperative, which is compelling enough for me, or our own economic self-interest, we've got to re-prioritize the Western Hemisphere and Latin America.
INSKEEP: You're going to back out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
O'ROURKE: I'm going to make sure that we end the wars in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, in Somalia, in Yemen, in Libya. We've got to find a way to peacefully, diplomatically convene other players and stakeholders in these regions to resolve otherwise intractable problems.
INSKEEP: You just named a string of messy conflicts in which the United States, to some greater or lesser degree, is involved and said you want to sit down with the players and resolve it. If you're in that room, if you're convening that meeting, what ability or qualification do you have that would make you the person who could command that room and get things done that other people have been unable to do, other presidents have been unable to do?
O'ROURKE: My entire life, my entire service in public office, every way that I've ever campaigned has been about bringing people in and finding the common ground to pursue a common cause.
INSKEEP: Let's just note for the record you rolled up your sleeves just now, so this discussion is getting serious. Go on. Go on, Mr. O'Rourke.
O'ROURKE: You know, I was in the minority every single day for the six years that I served in Congress. And yet, I needed to make sure that I delivered for the constituents who placed me in this position of public trust. So when I learned that we had a crisis in this country in veteran suicide, I didn't allow partisanship or my place in the minority to stop me from being able to do something. We wrote a bill and found a Republican colleague with whom to get it passed in the House, in the Senate, that opened up mental health care access to veterans who had been denied it and got the one person in this country with whom I agree on almost nothing - Donald Trump - to sign it into law. So I think I've been able to demonstrate that I will work with anyone, anytime, anywhere to further the interests of this country. And I deeply believe that we can do this without having to use United States military at every turn.
INSKEEP: An opening argument from Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke. Thanks for coming by.
O'ROURKE: Thanks for having me on.
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