EL PASO, Texas (CN) – Former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke restarted his presidential campaign Thursday after a 12-day hiatus in the wake of a mass shooting that left 22 people dead in his hometown, promising to ditch traditional early campaign stops for places where President Donald Trump “has been terrorizing and terrifying and demeaning our fellow Americans.”
“We must take the fight directly to the source of this problem, that person who has caused this pain and placed this country in this moment of peril and that is Donald Trump,” O’Rourke said in a speech billed as his first major address to the country. “I want to be the leader for this country that we need right now and that we do not have…I want to be the kind of leader for this country that El Paso has raised me and taught me to be.”
Standing from a podium in a park overlooking El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, O’Rourke laid out his harshest criticisms of Trump to date, connecting what he called the president’s racist and divisive rhetoric about immigrants to the El Paso massacre that appears designed to have targeted the Latino community.
He vowed in stark and at times raw terms during the half-hour unscripted speech to confront racism in America that he says is stirred by the president’s “intolerance toward those who do not look like, or pray like, or love like, or speak like the majority in this country.”
O’Rourke also demanded answers for a community still reeling from one of the deadliest shooting sprees in Texas history.
“Answers about what it’s going to take to ensure that it does not continue to happen in El Paso or anywhere in communities across the United States,” he said.
A former El Paso city councilman who also represented the sprawling border city in Congress for six years, O’Rourke seized the moment to spotlight stories of survivors and first responders of the Aug. 3 Walmart shooting before laying out measures to prevent future attacks.
He said he sees “more clearly than ever” that there are too many guns and not enough measures in place, calling not only for universal background checks and red-flag laws, but also for the need for an assault weapons buyback program.
“To this point, we have a Congress too craven to act, a democracy not up to the task…a complicity and silence of those who are in positions of public trust, and that’s exactly what has happened here in this country,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke, whose poll numbers still hover at around 3% nationally, put to rest any suggestion that he would abandon the presidential race to instead run for Republican John Cornyn’s Senate seat, but acknowledged, “I know there’s a way to do this better.”
Gone are the days of live-streaming haircuts and dental appointments. O’Rourke will instead make confronting Trump a central theme of his campaign, calling out “injustices” of the administration as he tries to pave a new lane to the Democratic nomination as something of an anti-Trump.
“Anyone that this president puts down, we’re going to do our best to lift up. And those communities so long forgotten, counted out, not counted in to begin with, we’re going to go there,” he said.
O’Rourke will travel first to Mississippi to meet with people affected by a massive immigration raid of seven poultry plants, where 680 undocumented workers were picked up by federal agents in the largest single-state immigration enforcement action in U.S. history.
On Saturday, he’ll deliver a keynote address for the Arkansas Democratic Party’s third annual Clinton Dinner.
The suspected gunman in the El Paso shooting allegedly drafted an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online before the massacre that denounced the growing Hispanic population in Texas. Some blame Trump’s rhetoric toward immigrants for the violence.