O’Rourke Backs Off ‘Mandatory Year of Service’ Idea After Criticism

‘I made a mistake,’ Texas Democrat challenging Sen. Ted Cruz says

Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, backtracked Monday on an idea to create a mandatory year of national service for all young Americans. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Beto O’Rourke blew out his own match on the idea to introduce a bill making a year of service mandatory for all Americans just days after floating the possibility.

At a town hall outside Dallas last week, the Democratic Senate hopeful proposed a “national service bill” that would require every young person to spend at least a year of service “in a military unit, conservation corps unit, in a medical unit, in a teaching unit — in some way that they’re going to help make this country better and stronger.”

O’Rourke even said he was close to securing co-sponsorship of the bill from a Republican lawmaker.

The idea underlying the initiative would be for young people to “sacrifice together and leave that with a shared understanding of who we are as a people,” O’Rourke said initially. “And no kid is going to be rich enough to buy their way out of it.”

But an apparent wave of criticism against the mandatory nature of such a bill forced O’Rourke to reconsider the idea — and ultimately backtrack.

“In talking about [a service bill], I said ‘I’d like to make that mandatory.’ That is a word that has concerned a lot of you,” O’Rourke said on a Facebook Live broadcast on Monday. “I got to tell you, you’re right. ... Talking about this being a requirement for everybody — that’s a few steps beyond the conversation that we’ve had already — so I want to tell you that I’ve heard you and I’m listening to you and that I made a mistake.”

O’Rourke is gunning to oust Republican Sen. Ted Cruz this November. After Alabama Sen. Doug Jones upset GOP candidate Roy Moore in a special election there in December, some Democrats pondered whether others could flip seats in historically red states like Texas.

But Alabama was an anomaly, Republicans say, the result of a controversial GOP candidate in a special election where the race was the only item on the ballot.

“If the belief is that Alabama is the beginning of a blue wave, I’ve got an iceberg in Texas for anyone who’s interested,” Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said.

“Candidates matter. Campaigns matter. Special elections are special,” Mark Braden, a Republican consultant in Tennessee, where Democrats hope to snag Bob Corker’s open seat, told Roll Call.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the Texas Senate race Solid Republican.

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