Full video rebuts Ted Cruz claim that Beto O’Rourke praised flag burning

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (right) and U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (right) and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
Bob Daemmrich: Cruz/Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson: O’Rourke/iStockphoto

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz‘s campaign released a video Tuesday claiming his Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, had praised flag-burning as “inherently American” and that he was “grateful” for those who do it. A closer look at the context around the clip edited by the Cruz campaign shows that O’Rourke’s statements were not specifically about “flag burning.”

Here’s a deeper look at the video and O’Rourke’s statements:

The claim

The 25-second video opens with a man telling O’Rourke, “The reason I ask this question is as a voter I don’t know how I would feel to have my own elected representative being open to kneeling on the Senate floor or encouraging and supporting acts that desecrate our American flag.” The video then shows a message reading, “Beto O’Rourke was asked his views on burning or desecrating the American flag. This was his answer.” Finally, the video plays O’Rourke saying, “I think that there is something inherently America about that, and so I’m grateful that people are willing to do that.”

“Congressman O’Rourke not only called burning the U.S. flag ‘inherently American’ but also said he was ‘grateful’ for those willing to commit such an act,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said in a news release accompanying the video. “His position is an appalling display of disregard to those who have put their lives on the line to preserve the very freedoms the American flag represents. Texans certainly do not share such views which have no place in the Lone Star State.”

The context

The 25-second video is drawn from a roughly five-minute exchange O’Rourke had with the man at a town hall Friday in El Paso.

The man begins by acknowledging O’Rourke’s recent defense of NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem – comments that O’Rourke made at a town hall in Houston last month and which later went viral, drawing millions of views on social media.

The man then asks O’Rourke two questions about Texas v. Johnson, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 1989 that determined flag-burning was a constitutionally protected form of speech under the First Amendment. His first question: did O’Rourke hold the case “to the same standard” as his support for NFL players who take a knee during the anthem. The second question: did O’Rourke disagree with the dissenting opinion in the case — “that the American flag is a unifying symbol that should be respected and revered as it plays no politics,” in the man’s words.

The man concludes with the comment highlighted by the Cruz campaign in its video, in which he says he is unsure how he would feel about being represented by someone open to kneeling on the Senate floor or desecrating the flag.

O’Rourke’s four-minute answer largely reprised the points he made in his original defense of the NFL players, recalling the civil rights protests over the years that led to change in America. The comment used in the Cruz ad occurs toward the end of O’Rourke’s response, when O’Rourke is alluding to one of the reasons NFL players have been protesting: to draw attention to police shootings of young, unarmed black men.

“When there is use of force, when there is a life taken, when there is not accountability, when there is not justice done, there is not the ability to prevent that from continuing to happen in the future — and someone is willing … to call attention to that to try to awaken our conscience, to force us to do the right thing — in the face of that injustice and violence and to do so peacefully and nonviolently — I think that there is something inherently American about that,” O’Rourke said. “And so I’m grateful that people are willing to do that.”

O’Rourke’s long-winded answer sidestepped the man’s questions about Texas vs. Johnson and never directly addressed the issue of flag-burning. However, last week, O’Rourke told the USA Today Network that he does not “think anyone should burn an American flag” and dismissed the notion that flag-burning was connected to the NFL protests.

In its news release about the ad, Cruz’s campaign included a link to the full video of O’Rourke’s comments and provided a partial transcript of them. Based on the full exchange, O’Rourke was not explicitly referring to flag-burning when he said “there is something inherently American about that” and that he was “grateful that people are willing to do that.”

Asked about the validity of the attack, Frazier argued “reasonable people would assume ‘that’ refers to the question [O’Rourke] was asked” about flag-burning.

O’Rourke’s communications director, Chris Evans, said O’Rourke was not referring to flag-burning when he made the statements highlighted in Cruz’s ad.



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