Beto O'Rourke: U.S. can do 'far better' than Biden

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By Adam Edelman  with NBC News Politics
Image: Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto
Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke speaks to the press after running with members of the LGBTQ community a two miles Pride run in New York City on June 12, 2019.   -  Copyright  Johannes Eisele AFP - Getty Images

Former Texas representative Beto O'Rourke slammed Joe Biden on Thursday, saying the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination would just be a "return to the past."

"You cannot go back to the end of the Obama administration and think that that's good enough," O'Rourke said during an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "As much as a horror show as Trump has been ... we had real problems before Donald Trump became president."

"We cannot return to the past," O'Rourke said, hitting the Obama administration over its failure to get "meaningful" gun control laws passed and over the amount of people it deported. "We cannot simply be about defeating Donald Trump."

O'Rourke's comments were the most pointed criticism yet of Biden, who polls show is the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and may offer a preview of how he plans to attack the former vice president in the first Democratic presidential primary debate later this month. In recent weeks, Biden has faced an intensifying wave of disapproval — both direct and indirect — from his rivals for the nomination.

Some, like South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg have suggested, without naming Biden, that selecting the former veep as the party's nominee would be like turning "the clock back to the 1990s." Other rivals piled on Biden last week after NBC News reported that he still backed the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds for abortion services except in the cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. (Biden abruptly reversed course, saying last week he now opposes the Hyde Amendment — after supporting it for decades.)

Asked if Biden was a "return to the past" Thursday, O'Rourke answered affirmatively, hitting the former Delaware senator over the Hyde Amendment, his support for the Iraq War and other tissues.

"He is," O'Rourke said. "And that cannot be who we are going forward. We've got to be bigger. You've got to ask yourself where Joe Biden is on the issues that are most important to you. Did he support the war in Iraq that forever destabilized the Middle East? Did he really believe that women of lower incomes should be able to make their own decisions about their own body, to be able to afford health care in order to do that? He supported the Hyde Amendment; he now opposes the Hyde Amendment."

"I'm not exactly sure what he believes or what he should apologize for. I only know that this country should be able to do far better," O'Rourke said.

Biden has called his support of the Iraq War "a mistake," saying on NBC's "Meet the Press" in 2005 that he should not have assumed President George W. Bush "would use the authority we gave him properly."

The then-senator added in that interview that he "never argued that there was an imminent threat. We gave the president the authority to unite the world to isolate Saddam, and the fact of the matter is, we went too soon, we went without sufficient force and we went without a plan."