ORANGEBURG, S.C. ― Democratic presidential hopeful and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who recently came out against capital punishment, said Friday that he regrets voting for a bill that would make it easier to give the death penalty to a defendant who attacked law enforcement.
“That was a poor decision on my part. I’ve never supported the death penalty,” O’Rourke told HuffPost following a campaign stop at South Carolina State University, his first visit to a historically black university since announcing his campaign for president.
Two years ago, in May 2017, O’Rourke broke with the majority of his Democratic House colleagues and voted for legislation that expanded the federal “list of statutory aggravating factors in death penalty determinations” to include the murder or “targeting” of a law enforcement officer, firefighter or other first responder. In effect, the bill, titled The Thin Blue Line Act, would have made it easier to seek the death penalty in such cases. The bill passed the House but has not been taken up in the Senate.
O’Rourke voted for the bill just two months after launching his bid for Senate in Texas, seeking to unseat Republican Ted Cruz in the red state.
On Friday, as a new contender in the crowded race for the Democratic presidential primary, however, O’Rourke said he had some misgivings about the vote.
“I think attacking a police officer should be an aggravating factor, but I don’t think that should contribute to taking someone else’s life. And so that was a mistake on my part, and if I could have that vote again, I would not vote for it,” he said.
O’Rourke announced his campaign for president earlier this month in a video to supporters. He has been barnstorming the country at a breakneck pace, with an official campaign kickoff scheduled in El Paso, Texas, at the end of the month.
The former congressman held six campaign events in South Carolina alone on Friday, reprising the furious pace of his 2018 Senate campaign, one that left him hoarse by the end of the day. His speeches in the early primary state placed heavy emphasis on the need to address voter suppression, police brutality, the “Charleston loophole” on gun background checks, and congressional gerrymandering.