CNN hosted its second town hall at Drake University in Des Moines on Tuesday, this time with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke answered questions from Iowans on a wide variety of issues, including the impeachment of President Donald Trump, the trade war between the United States and China, abortion, gun violence and wars.
The former El Paso congressman said in an appearance on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show earlier this month he needed to “do a better job” reaching national audiences. This town hall came in the wake of a slew of other recent television appearances by O’Rourke, including ABC’s The View.
Since entering the race, O’Rourke has seen his national polling in the Democratic primary decline from a high of nearly 10%.
In the most recent publicly available national poll of registered Democratic primary voters, O’Rourke has the support of 2% of voters. Former vice president Joe Biden leads the field with 39% support.
The town hall format had audience members ask O’Rourke questions followed by a response from the former congressman. During one of O’Rourke’s responses, he said President Barack Obama was the greatest president of his lifetime.
Cris Wildermuth, an associate professor of education at Drake University asked O’Rourke about the possibility of impeaching Trump, giving two reasons why she said impeachment would be beneficial for the country.
“Impeachment would bring into the open information withheld by the administration,” Wildermuth said. “It is the duty of Congress to protect the Constitution. There seems to be a concern however that the move could backfire politically — what is your stance on starting impeachment proceedings against President Trump and why?”
O’Rourke said the only way to ensure accountability and justice is to start impeachment proceedings.
“We should begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump,” O’Rourke said to applause. “It’s not something I take lightly; it’s an incredibly serious and sober decision we should make as a country.”
Doug Thompson, who said he has been a farmer since 1976, said he plans to pass his farm down to his son Adam. Thompson asked O’Rourke about the trade war Trump has started with China.
“I am a farmer. I have been asked to be a patriot and cheer for the home team all while 40 years of market development in China is destroyed," Thompson said. "The trade war has handed my soybean market to Brazil and to Argentina. My question: where are our allies — the E.U., Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico? Do we need to do this unilaterally?”
O’Rourke said the ongoing trade war between the United States and China is disastrous, and the United States should not go into any war, whether a military or trade war without allies.
On NAFTA, O’Rourke said he would want to ensure the United States is on a level playing field with its trading partners and said he would like to add further environmental protections to any future renegotiation of it.
Olivia Welter, a pharmacy student at Drake University and a supporter of Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic primary asked O’Rourke about abortion rights.
“Recently, several states have introduced and passed bills that legally prohibit those with uteruses from exercising their reproductive rights,” Welter said. “What specific actions will you take to allow us to gain back our right to our own bodies?”
Republican-controlled state legislatures in Georgia and Ohio recently passed legislation banning abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The Missouri state legislature has a similar bill moving through it, and Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons said he would sign it if passed. Iowa passed a similar law in 2018, though a district court struck down the law in January.
Alabama recently enacted a law banning abortion at all stages of a pregnancy unless there is “serious” risk to the health of the mother, with no exceptions for cases of incest or rape.
O’Rourke said any judicial nominee he made to any federal bench would have to understand Roe v. Wade is decided law, adding he would propose legislation to Congress to prevent states from taking actions such as those in Georgia, Ohio, Missouri and Alabama.
“I will work with our partners in Congress to make sure that by statute we prevent states from taking away the right every women should enjoy making her own decisions about her own body and having access to the health care that makes that possible,” O’Rourke said.
The current Supreme Court has shown a willingness to violate the legal doctrine of stare decisis, under which established legal precedents such as Roe v. Wade are not overturned, leaving open the possibility on appeal these state actions could result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Lydia Holm, a pediatric emergency room physician in Des Moines asked O’Rourke about mass shootings and the rise of gun violence in the United States.
“This year my four boys are in four different schools, and my first thought was that if a shooting happens they won’t all be in the same place, and every time I go to work at the E.R. I wonder if that will be the day [there will be a shooting],” Holm said. “What will you do to help stop this?”
O’Rourke said states that have adopted universal background checks and closed loopholes around buying guns have seen a reduction in gun violence of up to 50%. O’Rourke said he would make these background checks and the closing of loopholes national policy.
Nick Johnston, student body president at Drake University, asked O’Rourke about a vote he took as a congressman in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“While in Congress you voted against several measures aimed at punishing Russia after its annexation of [the Ukrainian peninsula of] Crimea in 2014," Johnston said. "If you’re elected president, will you work to counter Russian aggression in the world, and if so how are we to believe you when your record suggests otherwise?”
O’Rourke said his vote was against arming Ukrainians, adding he is a candidate against the United States entering more wars overseas.
“If you think we need to enter more wars right now, now that we’re in Afghanistan, and Syria and Yemen, and Somalia, and Iraq and a half dozen other countries where we’re taking the lives of others and putting the lives of U.S. service members on the line, then let’s go for it,” O’Rourke said. “But if you think that we can resolve these challenges peacefully without using military force ... then let’s pursue that.”
O’Rourke represented El Paso in the U.S. House of Representatives for three terms, before losing to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., in the 2018 Texas U.S. Senate election.
The former congressman gained notoriety during his run for Senate by live streaming his daily life on Facebook. CNN host Dana Bash began the town hall by complimenting O’Rourke’s haircut, saying she had watched him get it cut during one of those Facebook live streams.