Tonight was the first debate between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke. This one was held in Dallas, Texas, and two more debates are still to come. Read on for a live recap of tonight’s debate, along with quotes from both Cruz and Beto. This post will be updated live as the debate happens, so refresh this page to see the latest news. (Haven’t seen the debate yet? Watch it here.)
This moderated debate covered domestic policy. Beto and Cruz was given 90 seconds to answer questions and 60 seconds for a response, plus 30 seconds for a rebuttal to the response.
The panelists for this debate were Julie Fine, NBC 5 political reporter, and Gromer Jeffers, Dallas Morning News political writer. During this debate, Cruz and Beto stood at podiums in front of an audience of 240 people. They were each allowed to invite 105 people to the debate, and then SMU handed out the remaining tickets.
Here is the recap of their debate, including quotable moments.
The First Question Asked About Dreamers & Citizenship
And here we go. The crowd is pretty excited for this debate, cheering loudly.
Beto drew the first question, which asked him about a path of citizenship to dreamers.
“The number one concern…was the fate of dreamers. There are nearly 200,000 in the state of Texas…” He talked about a salutatorian who had just been sent back to Mexico, and said we should be able to rewrite our immigration laws and free dreamers from the fear of deportation, making them U.S. citizens, to the success of themselves, families, and the country.
“Sen. Cruz has promised to deport each… That cannot be how Texas leads on this important issue.”
Cruz responded. “My views on immigration are simple… Legal Good. Illegal Bad. I think the vast majority of Texans agree with that… We need to do everything humanly possible to secure a border.”
But, he said, we can do all of that while welcoming legal immigrants. “You wait in line, you follow the rules like my father did in 1957.”
He said Beto was out-of-step with Texans on his views.
Beto responded by talking about the wall and saying that was out-of-step. “It will be built on someone’s farm, someone’s property…using the power of eminent domain.”
Beto was asked if anyone undocumented should have a path to citizenship.
“We need to bring people out fo the shadows, allow them to get right by law… Yes there needs to be an earned path to citizenship.” He then discussed the cost and “stain on our consciousness” of deporting 11 million people.
They Were Asked about the Dallas Cop Who Shot Botham Shem Jean
The next question, to Cruz, addressed the shooting by Amber Guyger. Why did he caution people not to jump to conclusions?
“What happened to Mr. Jean was horrific. Nobody should be in their own home and shot and killed in their own home. It was tragic. Now the officer as I understand it has contended it was a tragic mistake… She thought she was in her own apartment, she thought he was an intruder. Right now, today, I don’t know what happened that evening. Congressman O’Rourke doesn’t know what happened that evening. But he (Beto) immediately called for firing the officer. I think that’s a mistake. We have a criminal justice system that will determine what happened that night. If she violated the law, if she did that intentionally, she’ll face the consequences… But without knowing the facts, before a trial, before a jury’s heard the evidence, Congressman O’Rourke is ready to convict her. Ready to fire her… And I’ll tell you, it’s a troubling pattern. Over and over again…when faced with an issue about police and law enforcement, he (Beto) sides against the police… Just this week Congressman O’Rourke described law enforcement…as modern day Jim Crow. … That is offensive. Just today Fort Worth is burying Officer Garrett Hall…who was shot in the head risking his life.”
The audience applauded.
“I did not call police officers modern day Jim Crow,” Beto disputed. “My Uncle Raymond was a Sheriff’s deputy… He was the one who taught me to shoot. … But he also taught me what it means to serve everyone in a community, not just some people. The tragic shooting death of Botham Jean, you have another unarmed black man killed in this country by law enforcement… We’ve got to do something better than what we’ve been doing so far…”
He said we need bipartisan work together for real criminal justice reform, because something is wrong in the U.S.
Cruz said: “I’ve been to too many police funerals. I was here in Dallas when five police officers were gun downed because of …hateful rhetoric… That rhetoric does damage, it divides us on race and inflames hatred. We should bring people together… Turning people against the police I think is profoundly…”
But at this point, Beto told Cruz that he had misquoted him. “This is your trick… To confuse and incite based on fear…”
They Were Asked About Kneeling During the National Anthem
Next, Beto was asked about the national anthem and NFL players’ kneeling.
“Those service members who put their lives on the line … they swear not to a man or a group of people…but they swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America… Now we have injustice in this country. Two sets of justice systems depending on your race… Too many unarmed African American men losing their lives in this country. To peacefully protest that nonviolently…so those in positions of public trust will finally do something… there’s nothing more American than that.”
He got a lot of applause for that response.
Cruz responded. “Civil rights legislation was passed with the overwhelming support of Republicans… I’m proud to be a member of the party of Lincoln, that stands for the equal rights of everyone…”
He added that everyone has a right to protest, but you can speak in a way that doesn’t disrespect the flag and the servicemen who died for it. He said Dr. King “stood for justice without disrespecting the men and women who died for this country.”
Beto pointed out that no one had suggested burning the flag. “I could care less about either party at this moment… This moment calls for all of us regardless of party or any other difference…we need to come together for this country that we love so much.”
Could Cruz Change His Vote on Kavanaugh Depending on Ford’s Testimony?
Next they addressed the Kavanaugh hearing. Could Cruz change his vote?
Cruz said that Kavanaugh deserves a full opportunity to defend himself, but he also hopes that Ford will speak. This issue reflects one of the many massive divides on policy and substance between himself and Beto, he then said. O’Rourke wants liberal justices, Cruz said.
“What vision of the court do you want? I believe Texans want constitutionalists…who will defend religious liberty… who will defend the Second Amendment… The justices of O’Rourke … would effectively write the Second Amendment out of the Constitution.”
Beto answered by talking about the nominees that Cruz had supported, including someone who had believed in conversion therapy, he said. “Dr. Ford’s allegations should be investigated by the FBI. Full stop,” he said. “But the Senator’s right in this regard. Judge Kavanaugh has a troubling history on voter rights protections… (He) has a troubling history of agreeing Roe vs. Wade is the law of the land … His support for civil rights is in question…”
Cruz responded that Beto didn’t dispute that he supports liberal activists. “He also didn’t dispute that he wants justices who would undermine the Second Amendment.”
Beto interjected that it wasn’t true he wanted to write out the Second Amendment. “Of course I support the Second Amendment.” Cruz asked for examples.
Cruz asked if he endorsed Clinton, which Beto said wasn’t relevant.
What About Assault Weapons Bans?
Next they talked about assault weapons bans.
“Texas is ready for a Senator who will defend the Second Amendment but also ensure we will protect lives (of our students.)” He said that emergency room doctors said a handgun wound can be saved, but a weapon designed to kill as many people as possible (an AR-15), “you will bleed to death before anyone can get to you… Weapons of war belong on the battlefield…”
Cruz then responded. “There is something deeply wrong that we have these shootings… They have to do with removing God from the public square… losing the binds of community and family… That afternoon Gov. Abbot and I were in a hospital visiting with a young student who was shot… Every one of those … Santa Fe students said almost word for word, gun control is not the answer… The number one answer I heard was ‘more armed police officers in schools to keep our kids safe.'”
Beto talked about an educator in the school that he had talked to who was a strong marksman. “Bringing a firearm into that classroom is not going to make those children safer,” he said the educator told him. “Thoughts and prayers, Senator Cruz, are just not going to cut it anymore.”
Cruz responded: “More armed police officers in our schools are not thoughts and prayers.” But, he said, he does believe in thoughts and prayers and is sorry that Beto does not.
Why Is Cruz Now Supporting Trump Despite Their Hatred to Each Other in 2016?
The next question discussed Cruz’s last election for President and Trump’s swipes at his wife and father, and Cruz’s insults back. How can he support Trump now and not lose his dignity?
“2016 was an election unlike any other… My dad, who’s here tonight… My father’s been my hero every day of my life… And Heidi is my best friend in the world… I am blessed from God to be married to Heidi Cruz… After the election, I faced a choice… We had an opportunity to do something extraordinary. I made a conscious choice to do the job I was elected to do… So I have worked hand in hand with the President… So yes, I could have chosen to make it about myself…my feelings are hurt so I’m going to take my marbles and go home. But that would’ve been not doing the job I was elected to do.”
Beto said that how Cruz responds to personal attacks are his business. But “we need a U.S. Senator who will stand up to this President,” including collusion with Russia, he added.
“The modern Democratic party is just consumed with hatred for Donald Trump,” Cruz retorted.
Did Beto Try to Leave the Scene After His DWI Accident?
Next, Beto was asked to address his 1998 DWI arrest and trying to leave the scene of the accident.
“I did not try to leave the scene,” Beto said. “Though driving drunk as I did was a terrible mistake… I can only tell you I was able to have a second chance in my life…I was able to meet Amy on a blind date… Raise three amazing kids with her… I’ve made the most that I could with my second chance.”
He also said that as a white man in this country, he enjoys a privilege that many African men and women don’t. They don’t get the second chance that he was given.
They Discussed Legalizing Marijuana
Cruz said that Beto was an advocate for legalizing marijuana. “I’ve always had a libertarian bent myself. I think it ought to be up to the states,” Cruz said. “But (he) didn’t stop with marijuana… He called for a national debate on legalizing all narcotics, that includes heroin … and cocaine. … I think it would be a profound mistake to legalize all narcotics.”
Beto said, “To be clear, I don’t want to legalize heroin and cocaine and fentanyl. I do want to ensure…that most states have decided marijuana will be legal at some point… We don’t have another veteran in this state prescribed an opioid because … medicinal marijuana is prohibited by law.”
Cruz said Beto did not dispute advocating for ending the prohibition on all narcotics. “My older sister…died of a drug overdose. People all across the state of Texas, 70,000 a year, are dying of drug overdoses in this country… And I think talking about legalizing all narcotics, that is profoundly dangerous.”
How Do They Approach Obamacare?
Cruz got the next question, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. What would he do?
“I believe Obamacare has hurt millions of Texans. It was sold…on a promise that if you like your health insurance plan you can keep it…. Politifact rated that 2013’s lie of the year… Obamacare’s made their premiums skyrocket…”
He talked about plans’ premiums increasing from $363 to $3,000, increasing tenfold. He said we can protect pre-existing conditions, but we need more choices and competition to drop prices.
Beto replied that he didn’t know how they would repeal the act and still protect pre-existing conditions. “I want to make sure that we also expand Medicaid,” he said, and have guaranteed high-quality healthcare for every child and person.
Cruz said that Beto didn’t even address skyrocketing premiums. “Everyone agrees pre-existing conditions must be protected.” He said he introduced a bill to protect pre-existing conditions while still allowing people to purchase the plans they want.
“Socialized medicine is a mistake and will hurt the people of Texas,” Cruz said.
What About Trades in Texas?
This next question was about trade in Texas and changing Trump’s course. (This question seemed slanted to the assumption that Trump’s work on trades is harmful to Texas.)
Beto talked about seeing the impacts of this firsthand in El Paso and talking to people in every county and state affected by tariffs and trade wars.
He said that our trade decisions are going to war without allies. “This state…needs a Senator who will work with the President where we can and stand up to him where we must… Not only does this state depend on trade and we must protect those trading relationships we have.. Let’s ensure that those Mexican workers also have the ability to organize and demand higher wages, to make the United States worker more competitive.”
Cruz responded that free trade is good for Texas, and he’s made the case to Trump that we should expand our access to foreign markets. “We have seen real breakthroughs with trade with the EU,” Cruz retorted. “…I’ve made the case … that they should work with India to lower tariffs on pecans… As far as I know, Congressman O’Rourke has never spoken to the President other than to call for his impeachment.”
Beto responded, “I’ll work with anyone…and that includes the President… I work with Republican colleagues to expand access to mental healthcare…” He said he worked to save veterans’ lives through access to mental healthcare and worked on bipartisan efforts to that goal.
Who Represents Texas Values Better?
Next they talked about Texas values, but polls show a closely contested race.
“Six years ago…I promised the people of Texas I would fight every day for lower taxes, lower regulations, and more jobs… I’ve kept that promise every day in the Senate for the last six years… The hard left is energized, they’re angry, many of them are filled with hatred for President Trump… We’re seeing tens of millions of dollars flowing in for Cong. O’Rourke’s campaign… As he takes extreme left positions, he gets millions of dollars.”
He said that Beto had said he was open to abolishing ICE. “He would vote now, today, to impeach President Trump. Bernie Sanders never said that,” Cruz said, noting that Beto was far left of Sanders and out-of-step with Texas.
Beto’s response… “Only one of us has been to each county in Texas and would have an idea of what Texas values and interests are,” Beto said. “Cruz visited every single county of Iowa. He shut down your government for 16 days in 2013… In 2015, he missed one quarter of the votes in the United States Senate. In 2016, he missed one half of the votes in the Senate. Who can miss half the days at work and be re-hired?” He said Cruz was captured by PACS and special interests, while Beto’s campaign is funded only by people.
Cruz said that representing Texas “isn’t a photo op at each county in Texas with reporters in tow,” but actually standing up for the people of Texas. He said he was on the ground for major disasters in Texas, and was fighting for their values.
How Do They Feel About Taxes in Texas?
The next question involved taxes.
“Generations from now… people will not be able to believe that a country $23 trillion in debt…would find as its solution to the problem $2 trillion in tax breaks that disproportionately flow to corporations… The tax bill written by the lobbyists for those very corporations.” He said that Cruz voted for the massive giveaway for the already wealthy and received money from PACs who benefited from the tax overhaul. “I believe in investing in people… In healthcare for every Texan… The ability to attend community college… I believe in investing in broadband Internet that 50 percent of rural Texas cannot reliably get on… I believe in investing in communities and people, not corporations…”
Cruz said that Beto consistently supports higher taxes, including the death tax, a rain tax, and others… Cruz said that the tax overhaul doubled the tax credit for parents. “His answer is he doesn’t want to cut your taxes, he wants to raise your taxes… If he’s elected, he will fight to raise your taxes,” Cruz said.
Beto responded that he worked on bipartisan support for El Paso to balance the budget. He said he had experience running a small business, hustling for new customers, and so he understood how to make ends meet. He doesn’t want to give away to corporations and special interests, unlike Cruz, Beto responded.
What Do You Admire About the Other?
They were then asked what they admire about the other.
When asked what he admires about Cruz, Beto said that he knows that Cruz works hard and spends time away from his kids. “I know he’s doing it for one reason, he wants to serve this country… We may have differences of opinion, but I have no question that Cruz wants to do the best for America. He does so at great sacrifice for his family and his kids.”
Cruz said he would express the same back to Beto. “I know the sacrifice you’re putting in… I think Cong. O’Rourke is passionate, he’s energetic, he believes in what he’s fighting for… You are absolutely sincere, like Bernie, and you believe in expanding government and higher taxes… We disagree on the outcome, but you’re fighting for the principles you agree in and I respect that.”
The candidates were then each given a closing statement.
Cruz talked about how Medicare for all would bankrupt Medicare, and socialism doesn’t work.
“When you cut taxes, when you simplify the tax code, it’s good for Texas. It expands jobs. It expands opportunities… In Texas we understand that if you get the government off the back of small businesses, (they) do well.”
Beto said, in part,
“We are not running against any one… We are running for this country, by and for each and every single one of us. We are going to use the challenges we face, being the least insured state in this country…to ensure everyone is well enough to live to their full potential… Whatever the challenge is, I know that we’re up to the task.”