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U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, discusses his Senate bid against incumbent Ted Cruz with Tribune CEO Evan Smith at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 23, 2017. | Qiling Wang for The Texas Tribune

O’Rourke Praises Pelosi but Doesn’t Want her Help in Senate Bid

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, praised House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Saturday but said he does not want her help in his U.S. Senate campaign.

“No, I don’t want Nancy Pelosi to come to Texas to campaign with me,” O’Rourke said during an interview at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. “I don’t want anybody from outside of Texas to come to Texas. I just want to meet with Texans.”

Pelosi, a California Democrat, has become Republicans’ go-to villain in many congressional races. When O’Rourke announced in March that he was challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Cruz’s team needled O’Rourke with a graphic portraying him as a puppet of Pelosi.

O’Rourke has his own unique history with Pelosi. When she faced a leadership challenge last year from Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, O’Rourke backed Ryan. The Ohio congressman was ultimately unsuccessful.

O’Rourke said Saturday that he called Pelosi last year to inform her that he couldn’t support her for minority leader, saying that as a term limits supporter, he believed it was time for new leadership. But he said that did not detract from the respect he has for her.

“Especially after having been elected and having the opportunity to serve with her, I am so impressed by her leadership,” O’Rourke said, praising Pelosi’s role in defending the Affordable Care Act. “There are so many millions of Americans who, but for Nancy Pelosi and her leadership, would not have health care today.”

In the interview, which was conducted with Tribune CEO Evan Smith, O’Rourke also opened up about his brushes with the law many years ago. He was arrested in 1995 for attempted burglary — he says he got caught jumping over a fence in college — and three years later for driving while intoxicated.

“I absolutely have made mistakes, and some of them are very grave,” O’Rourke said. “I think people are owed that story and should make a decision based on the complete story.”

“I really fucked up,” O’Rourke added, “and I really made a huge mistake, but look at what I’ve been able to do in my life since then.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Will Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, at the top of the Democrats’ statewide ticket, stand on the sidelines as his party goes all out to defeat his friend, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, in 2018? [Full story]
  • U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, posted a strong first fundraising quarter as a Senate candidate. [Full story]
  • U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, is using his congressional recess for a 34-day tour of Texas in his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz next year. [Full story]

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