Fact checking the Ted Cruz-Beto O’Rourke Senate debate

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Democrat challenging the freshman senator for his seat, sparred extensively about each other’s records and policy views during the first of three debates Friday.

The race between incumbent Cruz and O’Rourke is regarded as surprisingly competitive in the red state, since Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 25 years. This week, the authoritative Cook Political Report rated the contest as a “toss-up.”

We looked into three claims made on the debate stage at Southern Methodist University in Dallas Friday night. Here’s what the facts say.

1. Did O’Rourke describe police as ‘modern day Jim Crow?’

In an attempt to paint his challenger as anti-law enforcement, Cruz alleged that O’Rourke “described law enforcement, described police officers, as modern day Jim Crow.”

O’Rourke denied it, calling it “simply untrue. I did not call police officers modern day Jim Crow.”

Cruz was referencing comments O’Rourke made at a town hall earlier this week, when the congressman spoke at length on Wednesday about racism and the Jim Crow era. Here are his full comments:

“That injustice, to many more people here than I know firsthand, continues to persist today. That system of suspecting somebody, solely based on the color of their skin searching that person solely based on the color of their skin. Stopping that person solely based on the color of their skin. Shooting someone solely based on the color of their skin. Throwing the book at that person and letting them rot behind bars solely based on the color of their skin. It is why some have called this — I think it’s an apt description— the new Jim Crow.”


The context shows that O’Rourke is speaking about about the broader criminal justice system — including incarceration and the legal system — not just police.

His campaign added in an email Friday night that O’Rourke was talking about institutionalized injustice.

While O’Rourke does makes a connection between Jim Crow and law enforcement, Cruz significantly overstates the tie.

2. Did Cruz miss votes while campaigning for president?

“He missed one quarter the votes in 2015,” O’Rourke said. “In 2016 he missed half the votes in the Senate.”

This is true — Cruz missed 24 percent of eligible votes in 2015 and 50 percent of eligible votes in 2016, according to data compiled by GovTrack.

3. Does O’Rourke want to legalize narcotics?

“There’s a consistent pattern when it comes to drug use that almost every single instance, he supports more of it,” Cruz claimed of O’Rourke Friday night. “So when he was on the El Paso City Council, he’s one of the leading advocates for legalizing marijuana…Congressman O’Rourke didn’t stop there. He introduced and he advocated for a resolution in the El Paso City Council calling for a national debate on legalizing all narcotics.”

Cruz continued: “I think it would be a profound mistake to legalize all narcotics.”

O’Rourke countered the claim by saying he supported legalizing marijuana in the state for medicinal purposes as an alternative to prescription painkillers.

With this remark, Cruz is dancing around his past, outright false claims that O’Rourke supported legislation to legalize all narcotics.

We asked the O’Rourke campaign about this, and Communications Director Chris Evans said the claim that O’Rourke supports legalizing narcotics has been “been fact checked in every election we’ve run in.” And indeed it has. The resolution in question does not support legalizing narcotics at all, but it does call for a debate on legalizing narcotics — similar to language O’Rourke uses in a video posted by the Daily Caller.

“And I’d ask that there be some language in here that would also include advocating, or looking at, rethinking our War on Drugs, which by any measure I’ve looked at has been an abject failure. And also, looking at ending the prohibition on narcotics in the United States. And I’m not saying that we need to do that – to end the prohibition. I think we need to have a serious discussion about doing that, and that may, in the end, be the right course of action,” O’Rourke says in the video.

O’Rourke did previously supports debate around the legalization of narcotics, as Cruz says. The insinuation, however, that he supports going farther and supports legalizing narcotics is not true.