Beto O'Rourke addresses criticism over his inexperience: "Ultimately it's up to voters"

Beto O'Rourke on Medicare for All, 2020 run
Beto O'Rourke on Medicare for All, 2020 run 06:15

Beto O'Rourke, the latest Democrat to join the presidential race, begins day two of his three-day tour through Iowa Friday morning. "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King met the former Texas congressman and Senate candidate as he finished his third stop in Iowa Thursday for his first TV interview since announcing his campaign.

In their wide-ranging conversation, they discussed why he decided to run, his plans to tackle health care and why he thinks his limited government experience will not hurt his chances.

O'Rourke lost his Senate race against Ted Cruz last year by a mere three points in a deep red state. In that process, he won fans nationwide, worrying other Democratic campaigns.

Asked why him and why now, he told King, "This country has never faced a greater set of challenges."

"For us to meet these challenges, including the greatest of them all, the existential crisis of climate change, we are all going to have to pull together. We're gonna have to fix this democracy and make it work for and represent everyone. The way in which I have served in El Paso on the city council or in the United States Congress, the way in which I campaigned all across Texas is all about bringing people together," O'Rourke said.

Criticism over O'Rourke's lack of experience was swift following his announcement on Thursday.

"Three-term Congressman, no real legislation in his own name, lack of experience. I think even the Texas Tribune said, you know, 'paper thin record.' Why shouldn't voters be concerned about voting for you with your lack of experience?" King asked.

"Well, I'm grateful that ultimately it's up to voters and they'll have a chance to meet with me, question me, listen to me. And I'll have a chance to listen to them," he said. "Lifelong El Pasoan with Amy raising these three amazing kids. Small business owner … serving in local government, being in the minority party for every one of the six years I was in Congress and yet delivering for the people I serve, delivering for veterans, delivering for our border community …These were all things that we did by working with and listening to other people. And I'm convinced that it holds the key to our ability to meet even greater challenges before us. The only way we do this is by renewing and fixing our democracy and bringing everyone in."

As a congressman, O'Rourke supported the legalization of marijuana, investing in clean energy like solar and wind to combat climate change, more expansive gun control legislation, LGBT rights and had a pro-choice stance on abortion rights. He also supports legislation to put DREAMers on a pathway to U.S. citizenship, and is a harsh critic of the Trump administration's immigration policies.

O'Rourke told King on healthcare, "The goal should be universal, guaranteed, high-quality health care."

"I think we complement, supplement those who have private employer insurance with the ability to be covered under Medicare. That allows us sooner than almost any other plan to ensure every single American has the ability to see a doctor, afford their prescriptions, or take their child to a therapist," O'Rourke said.

Prominent 2020 candidates like Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders support eliminating private health insurance under a Medicare for All system, a plan that has provoked criticism from Republicans who have long accused Democrats of wanting to stage a government takeover of the health care system.

"I think Medicare For All is one of the possible paths," O'Rourke said. "I think the fastest way to get there is to ensure that people who have insurance that they like through their employer are able to keep it, and that we complement that with those who can purchase Medicare, be covered by Medicaid."

O'Rourke said he does plan to raise taxes on the wealthy and elaborated on what that would look like.

"I think corporations should be asked to pay a greater share into the success of this country. I think the wealthiest at a time of historic income inequality should be asked to pay a greater share. I don't know what the levels should be at. But I know that the tax cuts from nearly two years ago of $2 trillion at a time that we had $21 trillion in debt, at a moment of extraordinary need across this country was one of the most irresponsible things that the country has ever done," O'Rourke said.

"And you said if you are elected your cabinet will look like America," King said. "What does that mean and why is that important to you?"

"In a country where the wealth is disproportionately concentrated in white families, in a country where the prison population, the largest on the face of the planet, is disproportionately black and brown, in a country that has never—never fully accounted for the cost of slavery, of segregation, of suppression of voters, of participation in our economy, we have a lot of work to do," he said. "And where we can ensure that those who have the opportunity to hold positions of power and public trust look like and reflect the country, we should make every effort to do so."

During his 2018 Senate campaign to unseat Ted Cruz, O'Rourke said he believed President Trump should be impeached. King asked him today, "Do you still feel that way?"

"It's beyond a shadow of a doubt to me that, if there was not collusion, there was at least the effort to collude with a foreign power, beyond the shadow of a doubt that if there was not obstruction of justice, there certainly was the effort to obstruct justice," O'Rourke replied. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied colluding with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

O'Rourke said Mr. Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey in 2017 and his tweeting to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Russia investigation were potential examples of obstruction of justice.

But he said the decision to impeach Mr. Trump was up to Congress, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier this week that she opposes impeachment because it would be too divisive. O'Rourke now seems to believe there may be another way of removing the president.

"How Congress chooses to address those sets of facts and the findings which I believe we are soon to see from the Mueller report is up to them," O'Rourke told King. "I think the American people are going to have a chance to decide this at the ballot box in November 2020, and perhaps that's the best way for us to resolve these outstanding questions."