by PATRICK SVITEK, The Texas Tribune.
NEW YORK CITY — Beto O’Rourke said Tuesday he will decide whether to run for president by the end of the month, signaling his closely watched deliberations over a 2020 run are entering their final stages.
The former Democratic congressman from El Paso and U.S. Senate nominee made the comment during an interview with media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who pressed him on his long-awaited decision — and whether he’s given himself a deadline.
“The serious answer is really soon,” O’Rourke replied. “Before the end of this month.”
The topic of his presidential ambitions came up repeatedly during the interview, and even his acknowledgment that he was thinking about running drew long applause from the audience inside Times Square’s PlayStation Theater. He went on to say that he was so “so excited at the prospect of being able to play that role” — a presidential candidate — but made clear he is still grappling with the potential toll on his family.
“For me, it will really be family” that determines the final decision, said O’Rourke, who has a wife and three young kids.
O’Rourke’s interview with Winfrey was taped Tuesday afternoon in New York City. Their talk was was one of several Winfrey recorded as part of her “SuperSoul Conservations from Times Square,” which were also set to include interviews with actors Bradley Cooper and Michael B. Jordan; philanthropist Melinda Gates; and Lisa Borders, president and CEO of Time’s Up, a group focused on women’s safety, equity and power at work.
The O’Rourke interview will air at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 on Winfrey’s OWN TV network. It will also be available on her “SuperSoul Conservations” podcast.
Winfrey tried several times to nail O’Rourke down on his 2020 decision to no avail. In a parting message, she said, “You seem like you’re getting ready to run.”
In the interview, O’Rourke also reflected on the lessons of his Senate campaign last year and the meeting he had with former President Barack Obama in the wake of the race. O’Rourke said Obama did not encourage him to run for president but that they discussed 2020 more generally — and the strain a White House bid can put on a family.
“He said, ‘Look, just to be really clear, this is one of the most intense’ experiences one can go through, ‘and so know that going into this,'” O’Rourke recalled.
It was during his recollection of the Obama conversation that O’Rourke paused to take in the meteoric rise in attention he’s received over the past two years.
“It’s hard to believe that I’m saying I met with Barack Obama — and I’m saying it to Oprah Winfrey,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke has received wide encouragement to run for president since his closer-than-expected loss to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in November. As the 2020 race has gotten underway, though, O’Rourke has taken his time and eschewed conventional preparations for a White House bid. Instead, he recently took a solo road trip outside Texas and published a series of pensive blog posts about the experience.
In the interview Tuesday, O’Rourke said the road trip successfully pulled him out of a post-election funk. In the days after the loss, O’Rourke said, he felt a “profound disappointment in myself, that I had let so many people down.”
Since the trip, O’Rourke has made a number of low-key appearances in his hometown — and his 2020 deliberations have inevitably come up. During a visit to a class last week at the University of Texas at El Paso, O’Rourke told students he hopes to have a 2020 decision “shortly, sooner than later,” according to video posted on social media by an attendee. He also said he was weighing whether he is a “match for this moment.”
“Am I the best person to lead this country?” O’Rourke said. “Beyond my ego and my ambition … what is the best thing for the United States of America? And in thinking through that, and in suspending your ego in that process, is tough. And so I’m in that process of thinking this through, talking to Amy [O’Rourke’s wife], listening to good friends and then hearing what you all have to say right now.”
Before Tuesday’s interview, O’Rourke used the trip to New York City to visit his alma mater, Columbia University. O’Rourke, who graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, held an hourlong town hall Monday afternoon with students in which he did not make any new comments about 2020 but weighed in on the news of the day — calling President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall “ludicrous” — and opined at length about politics more generally.
Expressing his affinity for politicians unconcerned with playing it safe, O’Rourke heaped praise on freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., the 29-year-old Democratic socialist who upset a powerful 10-term incumbent, Joe Crowley, in a primary last year.
“One of the reasons I really like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is I really feel she’s saying the things that she believes, that she believes this country needs,” O’Rourke said. “The strength, the power, with which she speaks about the things that she knows are most important is so compelling to me.”
He credited Ocasio-Cortez with forcing a conversation about climate change through her drive for a Green New Deal, the concept of which O’Rourke’s camp has said he supports. And while O’Rourke did not touch on his own presidential aspirations at the town hall, he drew laughs when he lamented that “unfortunately for many,” Ocasio-Cortez is too young to run for the office.
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