Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke* was born on September 26, 1972, in El Paso, Texas. As a teenager, O’Rourke was a member of the computer hacker group Cult of the Dead Cow. The group “is notorious for releasing tools that allowed ordinary people to hack computers running Microsoft’s Windows.”
In 1988, after two years at El Paso High School, he enrolled in Woodberry Forest School, an all-male boarding school in Madison County, Virginia. Between graduating from high school and starting college in 1991, he was a summer congressional intern in the Capitol Hill office of U.S. Congressman Ron Coleman.
O’Rourke attended Columbia University where in his junior year he co-captained Columbia’s heavyweight rowing crew. In college, O’Rourke became a fan of punk music and learned to play the bass. In 1991, he and his friends formed the band Foss. O’Rourke also played drums in the band Swedes. He and ex-members of Foss later started two other bands.
On May 19, 1995, O’Rourke and his friends jumped over a fence at the University of Texas at El Paso physical plant, and were arrested by the UTEP police for burglary. He was held in jail overnight and posted bail the following day. He was initially charged with burglary, but prosecutors dropped the case against O’Rourke and his friends in February 1996 when UTEP declined to pursue the charges.
He graduated from Columbia in 1995 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature.
After graduation, O’Rourke worked as a live-in caretaker and art mover before working for an Internet service provider run by his uncle. He later took a position at H. W. Wilson Company as a proofreader, and wrote short stories and songs in his free time.
O’Rourke returned to El Paso in 1998. At first, he was working with computers as an inventory tracker at his mother’s upscale furniture store and living in an apartment building owned by his father.
O’Rourke was arrested for driving while intoxicated on September 27, 1998. The charges were dismissed in October 1999 after he completed a court-recommended DWI program.
In 2000, he co-founded Stanton Street Technology Group, an Internet services and software company. For a few years, the company also published an online newspaper, also called Stanton Street; the paper was a mix of arts and entertainment reviews, restaurant reviews and opinion columns that O’Rourke modeled on alternative periodicals like The Village Voice and New York Press.
O’Rourke was involved with El Paso civic organizations and nonprofit groups, such as the Rotary Club, United Way, and Center Against Sexual and Family Violence. He was a member of the boards of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Institute for Policy and Economic Development at UTEP.
O’Rourke volunteered for the campaigns of several politicians and then ran for the El Paso City Council in 2005. He won and was reelected two years later. He served on the Council until 2011.
In 2012, O’Rourke ran and defeated eight-term congressman Silvestre Reyes to represent Texas’s 16th congressional district and was reelected in 2014.
In 2015, O’Rourke was part of a congressional delegation that went on a trip to Israel paid for by the J Street Education Fund. During the trip, they met with Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators, political leaders and residents. O’Rourke gave up his congressional seat to run for Ted Cruz’s Senate seat in 2018. No Democrat had been elected to statewide office in Texas since 1994 so he was considered a long-shot. He lost, but the race was much closer than originally expected – 50.9%-48.3%.
On March 14, 2019, he announced he would enter the Democratic race for president in the 2020 election.
O’Rourke, a Roman Catholic, is married to Amy Hoover Sanders. The couple and their three children live in El Paso.
“I would do everything I could to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu if he is in power and if I am lucky enough to serve as president, and to support the U.S.-Israel relationship,” he said. “But that is not mutually exclusive to ensuring that the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people is not compromised or undermined or ended all together, functionally and for all practical purposes, as an annexation would do.”
The two-state solution should be “the goal for the United States when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian Authority….”It is the only way that I think you achieve those goals of human dignity and security, self-determination and the safety that people should be able to depend on in their day-to-day lives.”
“Certainly the president is trying to [turn Israel into a partisan issue]; I don’t think he’ll be successful in that,” he said. “Certainly Prime Minister Netanyahu has tried to do that [with] the lack of respect that he showed to President [Barack] Obama, the partisan politics in which he’s participated here in the United States….But we don’t have to accept that, and I don’t,” O’Rourke added. (Haaretz, September 5, 2019).
Responding to President Trump’s remark that Jews voting for Democrats “shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty” (JTA, August 20, 2019), O’ Rourke tweeted, “The Jewish people don’t need to prove their loyalty to you, @realDonaldTrump – or to anyone else.” (@BetoORourke, August 20, 2019)
On moving the U.S. embassy, O’Rourke said, “I don’t know if I would reverse the decision, I think it was unnecessarily provocative, now that it has been made, I don’t know if there’s a lot of sense in reversing it.”
Regarding Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, he said, “I don’t know if that’s a decision I would reverse, I don’t know how much that decision aids the ultimate goal of the United States and its foreign policy which is a two-state solution.” O’Rourke also said he would take “whatever steps necessary to make [the two-state solution] a reality.” (JewishInsider, July 3, 2019)
Asked by the New York Times, “Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights?” O’Rourke responded, “I know that Israel attempts to meet international standards of human rights. I know that they can do a better job, and that’s not just my opinion, that’s from listening to people in Israel say that about their own country. I think we have a role to play to ensure the safety, the human rights and the dignity of the people of Israel, as well as the people of what will become a state for the Palestinians, right now the Palestinian Authority. We cannot compel or force a two-state solution, but it should be our diplomatic goal, and every resource that we invest, every diplomatic effort should be towards that end. That’s the best way in the long term to guarantee the peace, the stability and the human rights of all people in that region.” (New York Times, June 19, 2019)
“This is my first public opportunity to do this ― to publicly congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu on his victory. I may not agree with a lot of what he has done or said, especially recently aligning himself with far right, very hateful parties employing some very racist rhetoric, disavowing functionally the two-state solution ― which if you care about Israel, and I deeply do, is going to undermine and jeopardize a peaceful, secure future for that state. It will make it nearly impossible for Israel to remain both a Jewish state and a democracy. So I have some serious differences, but our differences should not hold us captive to being able to advance our cause, which is a two-state solution. Our friendship, which is historic with the state of Israel, which must transcend who’s in power at a given time or the party affiliation of the president of the United States. That is an everlasting relationship and friendship. But for the full benefit of everyone in that region, Israelis and Palestinians, we must ensure that there are two states.” (Jerusalem Post, April 16, 2019)
Netanyahu is “aligning himself w/ far right very hateful parties, employing some very racist rhetoric, disavowing functionally the 2-state solution which if you care about Israel & I deeply do, is going to undermine & jeopardize a peaceful secure future for that state.” (@theHill, April 14, 2019)
“The US-Israel relationship is one of the most important relationships that we have on the planet, and that relationship, if it is successful, must transcend partisanship in the United States, and it must be able to transcend a prime minister who is racist, as he warns against Arabs coming to the polls, who wants to defy any prospect for peace as he threatens to annex the West Bank, and who has sided with a far-right racist party in order to maintain his hold on power.”
“We must be able to transcend his current leadership to make sure that the alliance is strong, that we continue to push for and settle for nothing less than a two-state solution, because that is the best opportunity for peace for the people of Israel and the people of Palestine.” (The Hill, April 7, 2019)
“I believe in peace and dignity and full human rights for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people. The only way to achieve that is a two-state solution.”
“Right now we don’t have the best negotiating partners on either side. We have a prime minister in Israel who has openly sided with racists.”
While he called the 2016 UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements “too one-sided,” he supported Obama’s decision to abstain from the vote, standing with a minority of House members who voted against a resolution condemning the U.S. abstention in a 342-80 vote. “I think that it is in our interest and in Israel’s interest for those settlements to cease if there is to be any hope for lasting peace; and that if settlement construction does not stop, a two-state solution will be unobtainable and Israel will lose the ability to be both a democratic and Jewish state.”
O’Rourke supports military aid to Israel because he “believes Israel is critically important to the United States because it is the home of the Jewish people, because it is an exemplary democracy that shares our values, and because it is a crucial contributor to our national security objectives in the region.” (Haaretz, March 15, 2019)
In July 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Hamas terrorists in Gaza, O’Rourke said he thought of his three small children as he saw images of young Palestinians pulled from the rubble. (The Intercept, March 13, 2019)
O’Rourke was one of only eight members to vote against funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system in 2014. “When asked to add a supplemental quarter of a billion dollar appropriation to the Iron Dome without debate, without discussion, without any real information, I didn’t feel that I could in good conscience vote to spend that money.”
“I strongly support the U.S.-Israel relationship, and that is reflected in the votes I’ve taken.” (Houston Chronicle, September 17, 2018)
- On moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem; “This policy on the part of the president, this decision he made to move the embassy, was absolutely, unnecessarily provocative.”
O’Rourke supports a two-state solution and said, “Ultimately, it’s going to be up to those two powers [Israel and the Palestinian Authority] to produce the peace, but we can do a better job and we can certainly stop providing incentives and incitement to violence, which I think that move did.” (Washington Free Beacon, June 25, 2018)
- O'Rourke spoke of the fear described by Jews he met in Israel in 2015 who lived near Gaza: “I was looking at the border wall as though I was in Chihuahuita looking at Mexico and talking to people who lived in that village and what they experienced this last summer and learning from them how they literally watched rockets arching over their heads, northbound. And not too long after, they would see missiles and fire coming right in the other direction over their heads.”
“Both sides have this problem where if they suggest anything that the other side accepts without pain, it is some kind of failure. It was really striking to me how much the relationship between these two peoples is governed out of fear, out of humiliation and most deeply and profoundly out of pain. And the need for the other side to recognize that pain and make amends for that pain.”
“I think our unequivocal support at times has been damaging to Israel.”
O’Rourke was criticized by some for being one of 58 lawmakers who did not attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress in March 2015. O’Rourke said he felt Netanyahu’s speech could hurt U.S. foreign policy and was politicizing the relationship between the United States and Israel.(El Paso Times, May 11, 2015)
O’Rourke said that “a nuclear armed Iran is an existential threat to the United States.” A supporter of the Iran deal, he said it was necessary to “bring Iran back to the table.” O’Rourke said the deal had “stopped Iran’s progress without firing a shot or invading another country or deploying yet another U.S. service member.” He added that President Donald Trump “diminished our safety, our standing and our ability to work with allies” by withdrawing from the agreement. He also warned “if we are unable to” resume negotiations “the alternative more likely than not is going to be war.” (JewishInsider, July 3, 2019)
O’Rourke called the Iran nuclear deal the best “available way forward to achieve our two primary goals in the Middle East: Stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensuring the security of Israel and our regional allies.” (Haaretz, March 15, 2019)
- The Iran nuclear deal is “an impressive diplomatic achievement that has the potential to peacefully resolve one of the most intractable problems facing our country and the world today.”
“Although the Iran Deal is not perfection, it is a critical international effort to ensure Iran doesn’t acquire nuclear weapons. The United States of America should not be giving up on diplomacy.” (The Intercept, March 13, 2019)
- O’Rourke was one of only 20 House members to vote against new Iran sanctions opposed by Obama in 2015. (Al-Monitor, March 19, 2019)
Sources: “Beto O’Rourke,” Wikipedia;
Daniel Borunda, “U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke talks about Israel trip,” El Paso Times, (May 11, 2015);
David Rutz, “O’Rourke: U.S. Moving Embassy to Jerusalem Was ‘Provocative,’ Provided ‘Incentives and Incitement to Violence,’” Washington Free Beacon, (June 25, 2018);
Jeremy Wallace, “Ted Cruz slams Beto O’Rourke over Israel vote,” Houston Chronicle, (September 17, 2018);
Ryan Grim and Robert Mackey, “Beto O’Rourke Is Running for President and It All Started With Weed,” The Intercept, (March 13, 2019);
Allison Kaplan Sommer, “The Time Beto O'Rourke Got Burned on Israel,” Haaretz, (March 15, 2019);
Bryant Harris, “2020 Democrats vow to re-enter Iran nuclear deal,” Al-Monitor, (March 19, 2019)
Amir Tibon, “Beto O’Rourke Says No Chance for Peace With Current Palestinian, Israeli Leadership,” Haaretz, (March 20, 2019)
Zack Budryk, “O’Rourke: US-Israel relationship must transcend ‘a prime minister who is racist,’” The Hill, (April 7, 2019);
@theHill, (April 14, 2019);
Ron Kampeas, “Beto O’Rourke Congratulates Netanyahu After Pegging Him As A ‘Racist,’” Jerusalem Post, (April 16, 2019);
“18 Questions. 21 Democrats. Here’s What They Said,” New York Times, (June 19, 2019);
Ben Jacobs, “Beto O’Rourke: Nuclear Iran is an ‘existential threat’ to US,” JewishInsider, (July 3, 2019);
Danielle Ziri, “Beto O’Rourke Talks to Haaretz About Annexation, Two-states, Netanyahu and Trump,” Haaretz, (September 5, 2019).