Beto O’Rourke pushes gun control, health care, immigration reform in Pittsburgh |

Beto O’Rourke pushes gun control, health care, immigration reform in Pittsburgh

Jamie Martines
Jamie Martines | Tribune-Review
Beto O’Rourke shook hands and took photos with supporters following a town hall event at Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood on Sept. 25, 2019.
Jamie Martines | Tribune-Review
Beto O’Rourke held a town hall event at Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood while campaigning in Western Pennsylvania on Sept. 25, 2019.
Jamie Martines | Tribune-Review
Priscilla Morales, 26, a staff member at the University of Pittsburgh from El Paso, Texas, asks Beto O’Rourke a question during a town hall event he held at Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood while campaiging in Western Pennsylvania on Sept. 25, 2019.
Jamie Martines | Tribune-Review
Beto O’Rourke held a town hall event at Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood while campaigning in Western Pennsylvania on Sept. 25, 2019.
Jamie Martines | Tribune-Review
Alexandria Cutler, 23, of Verona and Democratic candidate for the presidential nomination Beto O’Rourke listen as James DeShields, 65, of Castle Shannon explains why he is working to unionize health care workers during a round table event with the O’Rourke campaign Sept. 25, 2019 in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.

It’s been more than 20 years since Beto O’Rourke last visited Pittsburgh.

But the former Texas congressman seemed right at home Wednesday on the University of Pittsburgh campus in Oakland as he stopped to snap selfies with students who greeted him by name and to answer their questions about his position on issues like student debt and creating jobs.

This was O’Rourke’s second stop in Pennsylvania since he started campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination — his first was a visit to State College in March — and he had kind words for a city that he said has much in common with his own hometown of El Paso.

“Having seen Pittsburgh, I think about these beautiful hills, I think about the neighborhoods that have so much character and history,” O’Rourke said. “I think about a community that has distinguished itself by welcoming asylum seekers and refugees and immigrants from the world over.”

O’Rourke said Pittsburgh and El Paso also are two cities that have endured mass shootings in the past year.

On Aug. 3, a gunman killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart. On Oct. 27 of last year, 11 people were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

“I think the Pittsburgh people, the El Paso people, the people of this country understand that we’ve got to stand up against both this racism, this terrorism, and also this gun violence by doing the right thing,” O’Rourke said to reporters following his events in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. “And that means an end of the sale of weapons of war, and a mandatory buyback. And then making white nationalist, domestic terrorism the number one domestic law enforcement priority.”

O’Rourke’s gun control proposals were met with cheers from the crowd gathered under the tent in Schenley Plaza, steps away from Pitt’s campus, where O’Rourke held two campaign events before moving on to stops in Erie and Ohio.

Earlier, O’Rourke met with SEIU members and UPMC health care workers to discuss their efforts to unionize within the health care system.

Priscilla Morales, 26, a Pitt staff member from El Paso, said she was pleased with O’Rourke’s policies on weapons and immigration, and will likely be supporting the candidate moving forward.

“I think he’s bold and he says what other people are thinking,” she said.

First-time voter Marilyn Dongmo-Zebase, 18, a Pitt freshman from Mount Airy, Md., said she was happy to hear a candidate advocate for people of color, especially on issues related to criminal justice reform and health care — particularly the maternal mortality rate.

“He actually cares about what he’s speaking about, and that’s very important,” she said.

Judi Duffy, 71, a former educator from Indiana, Pa., drove an hour and a half to hear O’Rourke speak.

Though she thinks O’Rourke is “in the right direction” on issues like health care, support for unions and education, she also approached him after the event to ask him to visit parts of Western Pennsylvania outside of Pittsburgh.

O’Rourke also addressed the impeachment proceedings launched against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, stating that he’s grateful the process has begun and urging Congress to move swiftly.

“Our democracy is under direct attack right now, and if we allow this president off the hook we will have created the precedent that some people are above the law and can act with complete impunity,” O’Rourke told reporters. “The moment we do that is the moment we lose this democracy and this country forever.”

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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