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Friday December 9th

How’d Beto O’Rourke’s meet-and-greet go?

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke visits UNC-Chapel Hill on Monday, April 15, 2019 in the Great Hall of the Student Union.
Buy Photos Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke visits UNC-Chapel Hill on Monday, April 15, 2019 in the Great Hall of the Student Union.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke held a meet-and-greet Monday at UNC, where he discussed immigration reform, universal healthcare and partisan divisions during his first trip to North Carolina since announcing his candidacy. 

Donning a UNC baseball cap, O’Rourke led a crowd in the Student Union in a “TAR! HEELS!” chant before beginning a speech which emphasized the need for unity.

“For those Republicans, and I hope there are some in the room, you’re in the right place,” O’Rourke said. “Independents, you are welcomed as well. At this moment, we want to make sure that we do not define or limit ourselves by our differences or our divisions, that we bring this country around together to confront the most serious challenges that we have ever faced.”

Before O’Rourke’s speech, UNC Young Democrats President Alana Edwards read a statement provided by the University reminding the audience of North Carolina laws which make it illegal to interfere with the free expression of others.

“Here at the University of North Carolina, we pride ourselves on our diversity, especially our ability to hear and discuss different viewpoints in a courteous and respectful manner,” Edwards said.

During his speech, O’Rourke discussed his plans for universal high-quality healthcare and emphasized the necessity of reforming the mental healthcare industry.

Partway through his speech, O’Rourke was interrupted by a member of the crowd asking why he does not support a single-payer healthcare system.

“It may cost us somewhere between $25 and $30 trillion to be able to implement,” O’Rourke said. “It will mean that those who have employer-sponsored insurance that like their plan – like the doctors that they see, like the network that they can access – will no longer be able to keep it. That’s one way to go, and I have no problem with that if that’s what you want to pursue.”

Before O’Rourke finished, the crowd member called out again, saying that not everybody has great insurance plans through their providers and that there was not time for easy fixes in the American healthcare industry.

“I hear you. I just heard you out, I was trying to answer the question you asked of me – if you would allow me to continue I will,” O’Rourke said. “Cool with you?”

“We’ll see,” the person in the crowd said.

“You and I agree on this point – we do not have time,” O’Rourke said. “To allow people to continue to waste away, to die of diseases that are otherwise curable or preventable that cost us a hell of a lot more than we would spend on universal healthcare in the first place.”

O’Rourke added that although single-payer healthcare is one option to reaching universal healthcare, there are other options, including ensuring that Medicare is available for all by making it the insurer of choice.

The person who called out left the room before O’Rourke had finished his answer, CNN’s Leyla Santiago tweeted.

“Whether you look at our healthcare system, our educational system, our criminal justice system – until we confront the continuing legacy of slavery and segregation and Jim Crow and continuing suppression and disparity in every meaningful part of our country, we will never begin to repair the damage done or prevent ourselves from visiting the same injustices on the next generation,” O’Rourke said.

Speaking with media after the event, O’Rourke addressed the national discussion regarding Confederate monuments, saying that he believes all Confederate monuments on public grounds should be taken down.

“On our courthouse grounds, universities, in public parks, there should be no memorial to the Confederacy or to anyone who rebelled against this country for the sake of maintaining slavery,” O’Rourke said. “I’m really grateful for the leadership I’ve seen here in Chapel Hill. It is inspiring for those of us who want to see that happen in Texas and happen in other parts of the country.”

O’Rourke said the current administration, headed by President Donald Trump, has shattered previous beliefs that we have achieved certain levels of acceptance. However, he added that this gives the country an opportunity to confront issues of hate head-on.

O’Rourke also spoke about his desire to reform the immigration system, including reuniting separated families and honoring people seeking asylum.

GOP Regional Communications Director Ellie Hockenbury released a statement the morning of O’Rourke’s visit to North Carolina criticizing his economic policies.

“On a day when North Carolinians file their taxes, Beto O’Rourke travels to the Tar Heel State with his plan to hike them into oblivion with a government-takeover of healthcare and the $93 trillion Green New Deal,” the statement read. “While President Trump has led our nation to new economic highs and lowers taxes for hardworking families, Beto’s crippling plans would do the opposite.”

In response, O’Rourke said that he wanted to describe what he wants to do, which includes fair tax coding, repealing tax cuts to corporations, giving breaks to working families and allowing everyone to participate in the economy.

“I want to make investments in people and communities and education and opportunity,” O’Rourke said. “I think that’s what this campaign is about – I think that’s what this moment is about. That’s what is exciting to me, and that’s why I’m running.” 


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