Julián and Sawyer talk about President Biden’s decidedly pointed responses to the Capitol riots anniversary, filibuster reform and voting rights. They also deride Sen. Ted Cruz for apologizing to FOX News host Tucker Carlson after he initially condemned the insurrection. The two then chat with friend Beto O’Rourke about his Texas gubernatorial bid and his continued outreach to rural communities as he seeks to oust incumbent Greg Abbott from office.
Follow Beto online at @BetoORourke.
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Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro, Sawyer Hackett
Julian Castro 00:13
Hey there. I’m Julian Castro.
And I’m Sawyer Hackett.
and welcome to our America. This week we have a lot of news to cover. We’re going to talk about the push, to pass voting rights. President Biden’s pointed speech about the January 6 attack. And later in the show, we’re gonna have a very special guest, who’s running a critical race for governor right here in my home state of Texas. Our friend, Beto O’Rourke will join us and talk about the latest from the campaign trail. But first, we want to talk about what’s happening on the Hill this week as Congress heats up again, to take on voting rights. Sawyer, what’s the latest on that?
Yeah, so last week, after the failure to pass the Build Back Better act. In the Senate Democrats announced that they would bring voting rights back to the top of their agenda once again. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that if Republicans blocked voting rights legislation that the Senate will begin debate on changing the filibuster rules reforming the filibuster rules before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Republicans are obviously against it, you know, especially considering they’re the ones passing these voter suppression laws that this legislation would target. But President Biden and vice president Harris are traveling to Atlanta on Tuesday to give a speech on voting rights advocates, you know, are hoping to hear a more urgent call from them on reforming the filibuster, something that President Biden has sort of tepidly endorsed until now. You know, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema cinema are still the big names to consider on this. They’re the most prominent holdouts on changing the filibuster rules. But reporting suggests that they may, you know, be open to some sort of small reform, whether it be the talking filibuster or lowering the threshold for passing the filibuster.
So things are still sort of up in the air, you know, at stake right now is the Freedom to Vote Act, which was this compromise bill endorsed by mansion, you know, that would make Election Day a federal holiday, it would set standards for voter ID for early voting, improve restore voting rights for formerly incarcerated Americans, as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore a lot of those voting protections that were weakened by the Supreme Court. So you know, Republicans have come out. And they’ve sort of said that they might be open to some sort of reform on the electoral Count Act, which is this weird law that would clarify the certification process for elections, specifically around the Vice President’s role, this is clearly a move, I think, to pull Manchin into the negotiation table, and then just rip out the, you know, the tablecloth underneath it. But, you know, what do you make of this, you know, new push on voting rights to see, you know, President Biden finally going out there and giving a major speech on this and, you know, calling for the filibuster to be reformed? What do you make of all these movements on this issue?
Julian Castro 02:54
Well, I’m happy that the President is both in his words, and I think in his actions, putting a lot more muscle behind the need to pass voting rights legislation. I mean, this has been on the table now, since at least the beginning of the Biden administration, as so many people have acknowledged, look, there is a problem with Manchin and perhaps a couple of others in the Senate, trying to get them on board has been the rub. But also, you can tell that people have lost, people in Democratic base have really lost patience on this. Because people see this as so fundamental to preserving our democracy. They see what’s happening in their state house, especially in red states like Texas, and in purple states, like Georgia, more and more folks have caught on to how urgent it is to pass this legislation. And basically, you’re not willing to accept no for an answer. Now, the hard part about governing is how do you translate that into actually getting this thing done? In this case, they just got to keep pushing and pushing and pushing. They’re not going to get any help from Republicans. In fact, as you said, this Electoral Count Act and any other legislation that Mitch McConnell would put up or be okay with, I see that as a red herring, I see it as the same sort of two step that they often engage in to water things down to drag it out, and then all of a sudden, we’re in the middle of the summer, and then we know nothing’s gonna happen in DC, a couple months before an election. We’re already in the danger zone in terms of timing, so they just need to plow ahead.
Sawyer Hackett 04:42
Yeah, I think you’re 100% Right, like, Democratic voters are really tired. I think of this like get caught trying approach when it comes to all of these issues. You know, whether it’s the minimum wage, gun violence, immigration, climate change, it seems like you know, we don’t ever expect Democrats to actually deliver the things that we’re pursuing and promising voters. And I think when it comes to voting rights, like we can’t afford to just get caught trying, we actually have to do it. It’s like democracy versus, you know, fascism versus authoritarianism. And, you know, yeah, you’re right, this electoral Count Act. This is a Trojan horse for Mitch McConnell to try and convince Joe Manchin that he’s, you know, negotiating good faith. Obviously, that’s not happening. But I hope that Schumer and others in leadership, the people who are talking to Manchin, they have some sort of plan to get him there, whether it’s putting votes on the floor and watching them, you know, fail to then putting in room to negotiate or something. But it just seems like the kind of thing where we can’t afford to get to let this drag out months and months and months, as it was with the Build Back Better act and have nothing to show for it. Because, you know, he’s at least that symbol, he’s at least indicated that he’s open to some sort of reform. I mean, I think the most likely scenario would be like a return to the talking filibuster, but I’m pretty sure that he said, you know, unless Republicans are on board with it, he’s not going to be making any changes. And same with Krysten Sinema.
Julian Castro 06:07
I do not understand a reluctance to go to the talking filibuster. Because the talking filibuster is well, within the tradition of state legislatures, and perhaps even Congress over the years, still preserves a filibuster, you know, in that sense, protects the privileges of the minority up there in the Senate. It’s not like you’re doing away completely with the filibuster, but actually requires somebody to make their case at least fill time. And you know, that it’s going to end at some point, it’s not going to be, you know, dragged on and on and on, and essentially caused people to throw up their hands because they’re not ever going to be able to get around it, which is a situation that we have now. So I have been surprised that mansion, and others that might be hesitant to do anything with the filibuster wouldn’t even agree to a talking filibuster, which is originally what Joe Biden said, right? If you remember, Joe Biden said that he supported that chain. So I mean, he was clear about that pretty early on. Normally, you know, the instincts of some folks in leadership, I think would be okay, if this person is so recalcitrant on an issue as important as voting rights. One way to handle it is to make them fear a primary challenge the next time they have an election. At the same time, you need Joe Manchin to get those 40 different judicial nominations through, right, Biden said, tied Reagan’s record for the number of first year judicial appointments. Huge achievement. I mean, those are lifetime appointments.
Doesn’t make the headlines, but it’s a big deal.
I mean, it, they’re gonna make a world of difference in protecting people’s rights that we, you know, are so concerned about in this debate, and others from the federal judiciary, you need him for, you know, infrastructure for the American rescue plan, for other things that don’t get as many headlines as Build Back Better or as voting rights. But at the same time, voting rights in this day and age based on what Republicans are doing to curtail the ability, especially if people of color to exercise the franchise. This is different in kind. And there’s an urgency here, especially after the big lie, especially after January 6. And to me, that means that you need to twist elbows more, and you need to make people fear their own political future.
Sawyer Hackett 08:42
I want to go back to something you mentioned. I mean, you’re right, that President Biden indicated support for, you know, going back to a talking filibuster, like I think it was even towards the beginning of his term. But as recently as November, he publicly, you know, supported the carve out for voting rights to the filibuster, and it didn’t really make headline news. It was in a CNN town hall; it was kind of just in passing. I think he wasn’t even really intending to make that news. But you know, I think to the people who’ve been pushing that for a long time, it was a big, it was a big deal. I think now, you’re right that people want to hear more forceful, Joe Biden, they want to see the Joe Biden that they saw last week on January 6, who, you know, laid the tax on our democracy at Trump’s feet, and the insurrection that took place on January 6 has continued until today in the form of voter suppression, in the form of gerrymandering, in the form of elections, diversion attempts. They want to see hear from Biden, you know, first that he is willing and ready to push full steam ahead on reforming the filibuster, whether it’s talking filibuster or lowering the threshold, and that he’s willing to do everything possible to pass voting rights and you’re right I mean, like, even if you’re a fundamentalist on the issue of the filibuster, even if you subscribe to this view that the Senate is this cooling saucer and things are meant to move slowly. I mean, this was in place for, you know, a large majority of history up until recently. And I would point out that it was only a few weeks ago that the Senate passed a carve out to the filibuster for the debt limit to pass that debt limit extension.
Julian Castro 10:17
Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s been Swiss cheese, right? Like it’s a Swiss cheese already. Swiss cheese policy.
So their argument is kind of out the window. I mean, they’ve already supported a carve out to the filibuster. They’ve already said that voting rights is passing voting rights are the most important thing we can do, both of them. So where are we at now? Like, well, why can’t we get this done? I think that’s the kind of conversations that they’re having behind closed doors. And I hope that they’re more fruitful than then what we’ve been hearing for the last few months.
Julian Castro 10:43
Also, I mean, you probably saw that Ed Perlmutter the Colorado Congressman became I don’t know, what is it, two dozen or more Democrats who have announced they are retiring. That’s usually not good news. For the next cycle, because we saw a wave of Republican retirements before 2018. And then even before 2020, one of the things that portends usually a tough cycle is when a lot of people call it quits. They hang it up who have been around for a while.
Well, and we’re going to talk to Congressman Beto O’Rourke later in the episode. But you know, I think what candidates like Beto and other candidates running in 2022 cycle want to see desperately is this change in tone from Biden, this aggressive, energetic like attack on voting rights. I mean, he generated so many positive headlines last week. I want to quickly just point one out from his speech on January 6, he said the former President of the United States has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interests as more important than his country’s interests and America’s interests. And because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy in our Constitution. I mean, that is about as directed, as Biden has been towards the former guy.
Julian Castro 12:03
A lot of people were waiting for that. I mean, a lot of people were waiting for that pugnacious, you know, the Joe Biden did went toe to toe with Paul Ryan in that debate in 2012. And we know that he has it in him. And I’m glad that he finally went on the offense against Trump and this big lie in that kind of speech. I mean, he’s made remarks before during the campaign and so forth. But it was good to see, he followed that up the next day on January 7, gave a speech about the economy and the new job numbers, and had the same kind of tone. So it looks like the White House has decided that they’re taking this different tact when it comes to prosecuting the case against the big lie against these Republicans, which I think is a good thing. And it just clarifies for people the difference in parties.
Well, and I think the one thing that Biden desperately needs to do, I mean, I agree that he needs to get more aggressive towards Trump, but he needs to make sure to include Republicans in that circle when he’s painting Trump because, you know, we have to define this Republican Party as complicit in the Donald Trump that we see today. And, you know, the midterms cycle is Trump’s not on the ballot. These guys are on the ballot, and they have done every single thing that Trump has asked them to do. There was a good, one of my favorite writers, Brian […], had a piece where he said that Biden had seized the high grounds of patriotism, truth, freedom, and the promising to fight that the political world reacted to and the results were instantaneous surge in democratic morale. I mean, I think that’s sort of sums it up right? Like Democrats have been wanting to see this from Biden for so long. He’s been mired in these debates over infrastructure and the bill back better bill and not wanting to upset Manchin and Sinema. Now he’s sort of unleashed and he gets to sort of lay the blame on Republicans feet push on voting rights. This is the time to have that energetic surge right before the midterm cycle starts. So I think it’s great. What do you I mean; what do you make of this sort of new Biden that we’re seeing on the trail in Atlanta?
Julian Castro 14:07
Yeah, I like it. I like it. And I do think that we need that kind of energy. You need that kind of clarity in terms of what the President and Democrats stand for and what Donald Trump and Republicans stand for with this big lie in everything that has gone along with it of trying to disenfranchise people across the country. I think that’s going to be helpful in a cycle where you also need to get your base out because getting the base out is absolutely key to not only trying to win seats, but to hold off on losses in 2022.
So speaking of the January 6 anniversary, I wanted to quickly get your reaction before we go to break. You know obviously after Ted Cruz inspired these insurrectionists after he was sort of speaking directly to them in the days ahead of January 6, leading the charge to overturn the results or at least pause the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. He called January 6, a terrorist attack and he’s been calling it that for many, many months. But recently, you know, on the anniversaries referred to it as a terrorist attack, and the right wing went absolutely nuts, including, especially Tucker Carlson. And they’ve just been relentlessly hitting one left and right. And he went on Tucker Carlson show the other night and apologized for calling the insurrectionists who mobbed and ransacked our capitol terrorists, he gravelled to Tucker Carlson’s feet and begged for forgiveness. And it was honestly one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever seen. And that’s saying something, I think for Ted Cruz, but I heard you talk about this on MSNBC. What do you think that’s about? Like, why? You know, he’s such an arrogant, you know, big mouth, who always stands by what he says Why do you think he backed down so weakly and fecklessly to Tucker Carlson?
Julian Castro 16:10
Yeah, I think there are two things went out. First of all, he’s showing Himself to be the most spineless politician in America. I mean, here’s a guy that as I said, he wouldn’t stand up for his family when Trump went after them during the 2016 campaign, wouldn’t stand up for his constituents when the winter storm hit, but left to the Ritz Carlton in Cancun instead. And now he won’t even stand up for himself. I mean, he was right. It was a terrorist attack on January 6, and he has said that a number of times since January 6, 2021. To go on Tucker show and back down, be so meek and apologetic. And to grovel, basically, for Tucker and his audiences approval, just showed how spineless he is as a policy won’t stand up for anything, not even his family, not the people he represents, and not even himself. That’s one thing. But the larger point is, this is the price of admission in Republican politics. He’s doing this because he’s trying to keep himself in the good graces of this Maga crowd. This nationalist white supremacist crowd that sees January 6, as patriotic as doing their civic duty is trying to, right the wrong of as they see it a stolen election. I mean, they’re completely wrong in that, you may have the truth turned up over its head. But that’s what it is. And Tucker Carlson is like the headmaster at this school enforcing the rules. And one of the rules is, January 6 was a patriotic day. You don’t speak badly of those patriots on January 6, according to them. Cruz broke that rule on the Senate floor, no less. And so he had to be disciplined. And it was amazing to watch the senator from Texas, a place that prides itself on people who are bold and independent. And like the defenders of the Alamo, will, you know, do anything to defend their cause, fight to the death. You know, James […] and William Travis and Davy Crockett. And then you have this guy going hand in hand, meekly apologizing to Tucker. Oh, I was. I was dumb. And I was sloppy. Oh, sorry, sorry. You know, I won’t say it again. To this bow tied, New York based cable TV dude that probably lives in a mansion and you know, drives a Ferrari or something. Just, it’s pathetic. But that’s where not only Ted Cruz but the Republican Party is in 2022.
Sawyer Hackett 19:06
You’re saying if Ted Cruz’s at the Alamo, he would have cut and run the other way?
That’s very likely. Yeah, no doubt.
While you’re talking, I looked up the definition of terrorism, the unlawful use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. How could that not be defined as terrorism? What happened on January 6th?
It fits, yeah, it fits.
They were literally trying to block the counting of an election. It’s just so and I thought I thought it was hilarious. Or I guess sad that, you know, he put himself in this box of saying, oh, sorry, no, I didn’t mean everybody was terrorists. It just meant the people who were attacking police. He couldn’t even, he had to box himself so narrowly into the people who hid police or assaulted police. He couldn’t even say that the people who broke down to the Capitol who went into Nancy Pelosi’s office who went into the chamber floor to try and disrupt this counting or this the certification process, he couldn’t even say that they were terrorists, he had to say only the people who assaulted police, because that’s the, you know, the standard Republican defense is to just use police as a prop for your own political purposes. It’s just so callous. And I mean, I guess it’s typical of Ted Cruz at this point.
Julian Castro 20:18
Yeah, I guess we can’t really expect much more from Ted Cruz. And I do think that the patience would take Cruz in Texas is wearing thin, almost regardless of party now, seems like if Republicans had a better choice, I think they might well choose that person. So he’s probably gonna have a problem. In a couple of years.
He’s gonna have a problem either way, I think Democrat or Republican, he’s gonna be in some extruder in Texas. But speaking of Ted Cruz, we’re going to talk to his challenger from 2018, Congressman, Beto O’Rourke, who’s now running for Governor of Texas against Republican Governor Greg Abbott. So that will be right after the break.
Beto, Welcome to OUR AMERICA, thanks a lot for making some time off the campaign trail to join us, Happy New Year.
Happy New Year to you. Thanks for having me on. And it’s good to hear your voice. And we’re doing this through Zoom so I can actually see you as well. So good to be with you again.
Good to be with you. Well, I want to start off with maybe the most pressing issue for the state right now, which is COVID. Like it is for everywhere in our country. As we speak, the seven-day average here in Texas of COVID cases is 65,000. We have about 10,000 people who are hospitalized with COVID. And the positivity rate is very high at 37%. What do you see, as Governor Greg Abbott’s biggest failures on COVID? And maybe, you know, more importantly, what would you do differently if you were governor?
Beto O’Rourke 22:19
What you want the governor of Texas to do is to believe and follow the science and the best public health guidance. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to outstanding medical professionals in Texas where you are in San Antonio, where I am here in El Paso, certainly the largest medical center on the planet in Houston, Texas, Texas Medical Center, and Dr. Peter Hotez and others who work there. And what they would have told us from the beginning of this pandemic, is allow the science to dictate the policy. So where we need to wear masks, let’s make sure that we wear masks when vaccines become available. Let’s make sure that we get vaccinated when boosters became an option. Let’s get boosted when it became possible for our kids to get those vaccines and boosters. Well, then let’s have the governor urged the people of Texas to ensure that their kids are protected as well, because Greg Abbott failed to do all of that, and allowed the politics and the polling to dictate the policy instead of the science and the public health we have in Texas, the worst rate of childhood hospitalization for COVID in the nation, and for a while earlier in 2021, we lead the nation in childhood COVID mortality only because of the governor because Julian as you know, not only did he not urge Texans to do the right thing, not only did he not require Texans to do the necessary thing, he also wouldn’t get out of the way.
When local communities, county judges, school boards, principals, classroom teachers wanted to protect those who were in their care. He literally mandated and anti-mask mandate for schools and when you wonder why so many kids got so sick in the state of Texas to the point that we leave the country, you need look no further than Greg Abbott and last thing and I know this is something that you have been absolutely outspoken on, for which all of us are grateful COVID is not hitting all of us equally. It is disproportionately decimating communities like mine here in El Paso where in 2021 because of Greg Abbott, we had to set up not one but 10 mobile morgues to handle all of those who are dying so quickly in this community. We saw something very similar in Webb County in South Texas and along the Rio Grande Valley, and Hidalgo County as an example, by not allowing these county judges and local leaders to protect the public that they are sworn to serve. He really consigned so many to suffering, and ultimately to death. And that’s a tough thing for us to say. But it’s an honest thing. And we’ve got to say it because this did not have to happen. We didn’t have to have 76,000 dead and counting, we needed better leadership. As Governor, I’m going to make sure that we follow the science and we get out of the way of local leaders so that they can do their jobs.
So congressman, there’s been a lot of coverage in the last couple of weeks about Greg Abbott’s so-called mission to the border. There’s been this sort of wave of suicides among the 10,000 National Guard troops that he sent down there. You know, he’s spent billions of taxpayer money on the border wall on the state border wall that he’s contrived, out of nowhere. How do you see his record on immigration? Do you think that he’s, you know, wasting government resources, or he’s getting in the way of federal resources? What do you think is going on down there?
He seems to think that Texas can take the lead role when it comes to enforcing immigration law or establishing greater control on the border, or deciding who comes or doesn’t come into this country. If you accept the premise of that assertion, then you must also acknowledge he’s been governor for seven years. And if he’s had that power for seven years, how in the hell do we get to the place where we are today right now, I think all of us agree that we should be following the laws in our country, anybody who wants to come to this country should follow the law, those of us in this country should be following the law. That means following our own asylum laws, not using bogus excuses like Title 42, to summarily reject those who are trying to claim asylum lawfully following the rule of law in this country, and where we need to improve our laws. And immigration offers us probably the best opportunity to do that. We want Texans to lead the way. And I would love for the governor of the state of Texas, to be working with Republicans and Democrats alike in Washington, DC to say, look, based on our experiences in San Antonio, in Laredo, in El Paso, here’s what changes we need to make sure that we have rule of law that we have order where our country meets the rest of the world here at the, at the Mexican border. And so that we gain the benefits of these immigrants who as you all know, contribute far more than they will ever be able to take from our communities or our country.
It’s why El Paso and Laredo and McAllen are among the safest cities in America. Not in spite of that, because they are cities of immigrants, because they are border cities interconnected with their Mexican counterparts. I want to speak about the border with a sense of pride that I feel as a […] is somebody who was born and raised here. And so your last thing on this is, what we don’t need are the theatrics and the photo ops that you described from Governor Abbott, taking 10,000 guardsmen and women from their families from their careers from their hometowns, deploying them to the border as though it were a warzone, where they have literally no constitutional ability to do anything whatsoever has to have contributed to the four suicides that we’ve learned about so far, which are tragic and awful. And those families we are grieving for right now. When you combine that with the delays and payment to those guardsmen, the fact that we have cut, the governor has cut their earned tuition benefits by more than 50%. And as you know, a lot of people enlist in the guard to help pay for college and higher education. This should be an embarrassment. And when the governor uses the language that he’s been using about invasions, taking matters into your own hands, Texans, you must defend yourselves. You also get things like the shooter who walked into that Walmart more than two years ago in El Paso, Texas, and killed 23 people claiming that he had come to repel and invasion of Hispanics to this country. So not only is the governor not establishing order, not only is he not making a meaningful difference when it comes to immigration policy. He’s creating more chaos, more damage, more harm, and he’s likely to incite more violence in communities like ours.
Speaking of photo ops on the border over the weekend, as you know, Greg Abbott announced formally announced his re-election bid in McAllen, which for those outside of Texas is in Hidalgo County, one of the border counties. They see an opportunity down there after especially after the results of last November where Trump overperformed among Hispanics with some South Texas counties. What do you make of that? And what’s your plan for South Texas?
You know, I don’t think the governor would be down there if he didn’t see that opportunity that you’re describing Julian, and I think it’s very real. I think the border counties are as competitive between Democrats and Republicans, as we’ve seen them in our lifetimes. And if the greatest sin committed by Republicans historically, is to seek to disenfranchise these communities simply based on ethnicity or race or country of national origin. Then the great sin committed by Democrats with present company, absolutely excluded has been to take these same communities for granted. And to assume that if you live in Hidalgo county, or El Paso County where I am then, by God, you’re going to vote for a Democrat, because that’s what your parents and your grandparents and the generations before you did. And when Democrats again, not necessarily those on this call, or in this discussion, but maybe at state level in the past, and certainly nationally, when they’ve taken those voters for granted, they had […] the problem that we are reaping right now, and I think it’s incumbent upon all of us and certainly as a candidate for governor, it’s incumbent upon me not to just say that those voters are important, and certainly not to count on their vote, but to show up in person and demonstrate that we really mean it. And so as you probably know, when Greg Abbott failed all of us and the power grid failed in February and people were literally freezing in their homes and going without heat, and water and electricity, and then their pipes burst and destroy the very homes in which they were freezing. I was down in the Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville in McAllen in Edinburg, visiting with families who did not have any power, helping to distribute resources and making an appeal as you did at that moment as well to people across the country to send contributions to Texas so we could get the help to people when they really needed it.
Beto O’Rourke 31:38
We weren’t there for a photo op, we were there to help the people that we wanted to serve. And so as you know, when we listen to people on the border, certainly folks will have an opinion on immigration and the US-Mexico dynamic, but even more so they care about the quality of the school that their kid goes to, the kind of job that they’re going to be able to work and whether or not they’re going to have to work a second or third job just to make ends meet in the least insured state in the country. The Rio Grande Valley is probably the least insured part of the state. So there are people dying right now of diabetes, uncurable cancers of the flu, because this governor has failed to expand Medicaid and connect the people of the Rio Grande Valley with the care that could literally save their lives. So we see Abbott using the border as a prop as a photo opportunity as a means to scare the rest of Texas about the invasion that he tells us is coming to get us, we see the border as perhaps a greatest opportunity for Texas’s future. And we can’t just say that we’ve got to show up and be there. And that’s why I was there in February. I was there at the beginning of this campaign. And I will continue to be there. And in fact, I’m transmitting from part of the border right now here in El Paso, where I feel like I can tell the story of this community that has helped to raise me and combat the lies and misinformation of this governor with the truth, which is really powerful.
Julian Castro 33:04
You know, speaking of Texas is future, in the very near future, we’re going to go through the rest of January and February. And of course, it was last February, when we experienced that massive and deadly winter storm. One of Greg Abbott’s biggest failures, as you’ve pointed out up by one count 700 Texans died during that winter storm. Do you believe that the grid is ready? Why or why not? And what would you do with your governor about fixing the power grid?
Power Grid is not ready. And it’s not something you should take my word for. But we should take the word of ERCOT which is the organization responsible for managing the electricity grid in the state of Texas. They released a report about a month ago. And who Leon I’m sure you saw this. Every major report is released right before a holiday. You know, the report on the death toll from the February grid failure was released on New Year’s Eve so that nobody would see it and broadcast TV wouldn’t report on it. But this ERCOT report that came out a month ago said that should we see another bout of extreme or severe weather like we experienced last February, we’re looking at a 40% shortfall in generating capacity to meet the demand that we’ll see. Because even though millions were knocked offline, hundreds of lives were lost and everyone’s utility bills are going to be going up for the next 20 years. Something that a lot of people are referring to as the Abbot tax on our fellow Texans. This governor has done nothing to prepare the grid and to address the fundamental cause of the grids failure in February, which was the gas supply and what we know is it will cost those who own that part of the grid 2% to 3% of their profits to invest in full weatherization of gas supplies.
But they’re not willing to do that. And they’ve paid Greg Abbott millions of dollars in campaign contributions since the grid failure, one could assume as a way of asking the governor not to require them to do the thing will protect all of us next time we hit severe weather. So because Abbott is more interested in looking after his campaign donors than in the people of Texas, we are vulnerable again to another grid collapse if we hit severe weather. Now, I should say this, all of us are praying and hoping that we don’t have severe weather this winter, because we are not prepared. And if we don’t, it’s very likely that the grid is going to hold up. But what we need right now is the urgency to fix this and do whether it’s politically difficult or not what has to be done to make sure that that grid is ready going forward. It’s just unthinkable that in the energy capital of North America, we’d still have to wonder whether or not we can keep the lights on.
Sawyer Hackett 36:00
So Carson, you’ve been a leader on voting rights for some time. And obviously over the last year, your home state has witnessed this sort of assault against voting rights with these new voter suppression laws under SB1. As you know, this week the Senate is beginning debate on you know, the filibuster and voting rights legislation, the president’s going to Atlanta to speak on the issue. What would you like to see from President Biden and Democrats in Washington to get this done on voting rights?
We need all of us to decide what we’re going to do to give President Biden the power that he needs, how we can compel those members of Congress to make this the urgent number one priority for our country, the way that John Lewis and Martin Luther King, and Septima Clark and so many others did in the 1960s. And then we need President Biden to respond with the urgency that this crisis requires, because it is very likely that absence, that kind of presidential leadership, this moment will pass. And we will not have free and fair elections going forward in many states throughout the country in 2022. And even worse than the next presidential contest in 2024. So we need that leadership right now. And though, President Biden has given some absolute amazing barnburner speeches on this one in Philadelphia last year, and then another one on the anniversary of January 6, just last week, I don’t know that we’re seeing enough of the action that we want to see. And I know his situation in the Senate is precarious. But so is the state of our democracy. And we’ve got to get this done. I don’t think there is another option, but to get some version of this voting rights legislation passed and to get it passed this year.
One of the interesting things I find about your campaign in 2022, is that in 2018, you famously visited all 254 counties, you’re still barnstorming the state. But what I’ve picked up this cycle is a particular focus on rural communities and speaking to their needs, and of course, speaking to Greg Abbott’s track record. Talk to me a little bit about that. What do rural communities tell you that they need more of? And how do you see that playing into the campaign ahead?
Beto O’Rourke 38:25
It reminds me a little bit of the conversation we just had about the border and South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, because in rural West Texas and the Panhandle and deep East Texas, it’s almost the opposite. Democrats just stopped showing up and contesting the November elections and because Democrats feared to tread Republicans didn’t have to do really anything at all. They really had a monopoly on political power. And I think functionally, the folks in these communities have gone unrepresented, because their votes are no longer contested or competed for. And so what I have found is that when you show up and you listen to people in these communities, the issues are absolutely alarming. The spate of hospital closures, for example, in rural Texas, 24 of them I think, over the last 10 years. That means some people are driving hours or hundreds of miles to be able to see a doctor because Medicaid wasn’t expanded by Greg Abbott because there hasn’t been focused by Republicans on this most basic level of government service. You have school teachers who are making such little money that they’re working second or third jobs, or even worse for these smaller talents are being recruited by the big districts in San Antonio or Dallas, or Houston and they cannot keep their talent in their communities. Something you and I have talked about in the past is that we’re also using the taxpayer resources and wealth of West Texas to fund economic development and tax break giveaways in other parts of the state.
Beto O’Rourke 40:05
So we’re not creating the jobs that folks in rural Texas should be able to look forward to. There’s a real specific example to this last year of the failure of leadership in rural Texas, Greg Abbott vetoed the Universal Service Fund bill this year in the legislature, which means that your phone bill and your internet bill combined in rural Texas is going to go up between 25 to $100 a month going forward, that’s on top of the higher utility bills that you’re going to pay because of Greg Abbott. And the other inflation that we’re seeing across the economy. If I had not shown up in these communities, I might not have known what a serious challenge they have with these problems, and why they’re begging for leadership. And they’re not too particular, whether that leader has a D or an R next to their name just as long as they’re showing up paying attention, and willing to deliver when the time comes. And that’s what I hope to be able to offer for rural Texas, and other parts of the state that are far from the centers of power, and so often overlooked or taken for granted, or completely written off, to begin with. And I gotta tell you, it’s pretty gratifying to be in these communities, meet with folks and realize that we have a lot of common interests here.
I want to ask you to just reflect on your race in 2018, what you were hearing back then, and what you’re hearing from folks today in 2022, and then let people know who are interested in getting involved in the campaign, how they can find you.
We all got to be part of something absolutely electric and transformational in 2018. And it really had to do with the people of Texas far more than need the candidates on the ballot or even the political parties to which we belong. People were so hungry for something better. And what was wonderful about it is they were willing to put in the work to achieve that. So signing up to become volunteer deputy registrar’s to get people on the rolls or grabbing a clipboard and knocking on doors and meeting voters and helping to make a decision to turnout young people taking on leadership roles. And not just talking about or tweeting about or back then Snapchatting and today tick talking but showing up and leading their classmates, their colleagues, their neighbors to the polls. So at the end of the day, you have the largest voter turnout in Texas midterm election since 1970. Young voter turnout through the roof up 500%. And though we didn’t defeat Ted Cruz, we did see other people get across the line Calling All right, Lizzie panel Fletcher, replacing Republicans, the United States Congress and 12 new state reps all Democrats taking the places of Republicans there, 17 black women elected to judgeships in Harris County alone all in 2018. Julian, to your question, I think that is the base upon which we are building right now everyone who was part of that effort, who picked up the clipboard, who became a voter registrar, they’re still in the state, they’re still just as hungry for change. But now they are battle tested. And they know how to do this.
And they’re recruiting their family and friends and neighbors to join this effort as well. It gives me a lot of confidence that if we rely less on any one individual, or any silver bullet, or any amount of money that might otherwise be thought to save the day, but instead look to the people of this state, we can pull this off and is within our control and something that is ours to shape the future, the fortune, the fate of Texas. So I think that we are actually in a really good position. We’re definitely the underdogs. We definitely have a very steep narrow road ahead of us. But we are with extraordinary good company right now. And for anyone listening who wants to join and be part of this, our website is BetoForTexas.com. And we’ll take you as a volunteer in Texas. If you’re listening outside of Texas, you can still phone bank, you can write letters, obviously you can donate and we’d love to have your support in that way as well. But so grateful to you and to Sawyer for having us on for all the work that you all are doing for democracy and voting rights in the state of Texas and in the country at large. And for your political leadership and the examples that you have provided for us and others who want to be able to point to what Democrats can do once they’re in a position of power and public trust. So thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.
Are you still getting is your campaign team still letting you get your fill of water burger on the campaign trail?
Beto O’Rourke 44:45
You know what I’ve got this great. Stainless steel Whataburger.
The water burger cup.
Julian, and you’re with us for part of the stretch in 2018. So you’ve lived this but We probably ate, you know, seven or eight meals a week at Whataburger because it was reliable. It tastes so good. It feels the up right away. I don’t think that was the healthiest decision that I made.
They should have paid you that year as an ambassador. I’ll never forget when we were I think in late September of 2018. We did that valley tour. But I’ll never forget you we pulled up to Whataburger drive thru you ordered and then like you were waiting, we were waiting to get the order few feet down and the drive thru and like these old ladies, I forgot what Bordertown it was in got out and started hugging you. And so we want you to win. And it’s a wonderful spirit back then. And I see that recaptured. You’re recapturing that in 2022 The energy, the vision that you’re bringing, and frankly, I think in the hearts of so many Texans, the yearning for change of leadership in this state when I sweat there good luck on the campaign trail.
Beto O’Rourke 46:07
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on. This has been great.
You know, our conversation with Beto inspired us to think about you know, his love of water burger inspired us think about the campaign from a couple of years ago. You know, it’s almost like no matter where you go, there are always surprises on the campaign trail when it comes to food Sawyer in for me, it was good Mexican food in Iowa. The I know that people are probably laughing you know, I can hear people laughing out there, right. But for real, you know, because these Mexican immigrants have settled over the decades in so many different parts of the country. People know about Texas and California and New Mexico, whatever, but even in places like Iowa, I swear I had like good fajitas and I had some good enchiladas. Now what I say that it’s as good is the Tex Mex that I have here. No, but for Iowa it was pretty good.
was pretty good. Yeah, I mean, you have to find on the campaign trail those comfort foods and obviously I spent a lot of time on the road with you and you know, got to get to eat all kinds of different places a lot of Cheesecake Factory and PF Changs but Whataburger to me.
You’re also introduced to the Texas cuisine, right? I mean, coming down here to Texas. What did you like
Well, I mean, just while we’re speaking about Whataburger, I mean, I I did not expect to like water burger as much as I did. And that place is amazing. And I’m just surprised that it has not like become a national chain. I have a friend who shipped me like 10 bottles of their like spicy ketchup because, you know, they don’t make spicy ketchup anywhere. But I thought that was a genius invention. And I’m just surprised it hasn’t caught on around the country because it’s so damn good.
Julian Castro 48:14
You know, they have this limited-edition spicy ketchup with salsa that I just saw Yeah, maybe I’ll have to hunt one down and try and get it to you. But hey, I hope you’ll leave us a voicemail sharing your stories of the new year that you care about most right now. Leave us a voicemail at 833-453-6662, that’s 833-453-6662 And don’t forget to subscribe to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts.
We’ll see you next week.
OUR AMERICA is a Lemonada Media Original. Our Producer is Xorje Olivares, with executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Julian Castro. Mix and scoring by Veronica Rodriguez. Music is by Xander Singh. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @JulianCastro, at @Sawyer Hackett and at @LemonadaMedia. If you want more OUR AMERICA, subscribe to Lemonada Premium, only on Apple podcasts.