'I made a mistake': Senate candidate from Texas backs down from mandatory service idea

Beto O'Rourke to constituents: 'I've heard you and I'm listening to you'

By Mariah Medina - Digital Journalist

SAN ANTONIO - Days after sharing his idea to introduce a bill that would require all young people to spend at least a year "in service to this country," U.S. Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke backtracked from that statement.

On Monday, the El Paso Democratic congressman said, in part, "I made a mistake," as he addressed voters via Facebook live on Monday.

READ THE INITIAL REPORT: Senate candidate from Texas wants to make year of 'service to country' mandatory

O'Rourke held a town hall in Corsicana last week and shared the controversial idea with those in attendance. The senate candidate told the Corsicana audience he hoped to introduce a bill to congress that would require "every young person," regardless of their socioeconomic background, to serve their country in some way whether that be in military service, a medical unit, a teaching unit etc.

Many, however, took O'Rourke's comments to mean only military service. Others felt the "mandatory" aspect of his idea mirrored conscription.

"In talking about that, I said 'I'd like to make that mandatory,'" O'Rourke said in a Facebook live on Monday. "That is a word that has concerned a lot of you and I got to tell you, you're right."

O'Rourke said he has received a large amount of feedback and concern from voters since making those remarks and clarified what the motivation behind the idea was: making college more accessible and affordable for people.

Read O'Rourke's full response to feedback below:

"When we were in Corsicana a couple of nights ago, we were talking about a national service bill that I would like to work on, and that I have been working on, that would encourage more young people to serve and perhaps connect that service with the ability to go to college without debt, and if they're able to afford coming back to their communities -- to El Paso, to Laredo, to Ft. Stockton, to Wichita Falls, to Lufkin to Longview -- to wherever they are from, or wherever they want to be, or wherever they can do the most good.

In talking about that, I said 'I'd like to make that mandatory.' That is a word that has concerned a lot of you and I got to tell you, you're right.

I think I got way out in front of this without having the necessary conversation, without listening to enough of you about if you were serving as a teacher, if you were serving in the VA, if you were clearing trails in a conservation core, if you were serving in the military, if you were doing some kind of service that helps to make your country stronger, or your community better, that all to have some sense of shared purpose and sacrifice in this country. 

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 -- without having listened to enough people and really have the conversation that we need to have on what this would look like getting so far out ahead on an issue."

Many responded to O'Rourke's live stream, commending the senate candidate for his transparency in reflection.

"How many politicians have you ever heard willingly admit they were wrong and apologize? THIS is why Beto is different!" one man wrote.

O'Rourke also expanded on the ideas expressed in HR 3140, a bill introduced to the House in June that he cosponsored.

"(HR 3140) does not require mandatory national service, but says if you're willing to serve your community, if you're willing to serve your country, we are going to make it a lot easier for you to get ahead in life," O'Rourke said.

O'Rourke is running for the senate seat currently held by Republican Ted Cruz. A request for comment from Cruz's campaign was not immediately returned Monday afternoon.

See O'Rourke's video statement in full below:

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