Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke (//; born September 26, 1972) is an American politician and businessman serving as the U.S. Representative for Texas's 16th congressional district since 2013. He is the nominee of the Democratic Party in the 2018 Texas U.S. Senate race, running against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Texas's 16th district
Assumed office |
January 3, 2013
|Preceded by||Silvestre Reyes|
|Member of the El Paso City Council|
from the 8th district
June 1, 2005 – June 27, 2011
|Preceded by||Anthony Cobos|
|Succeeded by||Cortney Niland|
Robert Francis O'Rourke|
September 26, 1972
El Paso, Texas, U.S.
Amy Hoover Sanders (m. 2005)
|Residence||Sunset Heights, El Paso, Texas, U.S.|
|Education||Columbia University (BA)|
A native of El Paso, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2012 by defeating incumbent Democratic U.S. Representative Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary that year. The district includes most of El Paso County. Prior to his election to Congress, O'Rourke was on the El Paso City Council from June 2005 to June 2011.
Early life and education
Robert Francis O'Rourke was born on September 26, 1972 at Hotel Dieu Hospital in El Paso to Pat Francis O'Rourke and Melissa Martha O'Rourke née Williams. A fourth-generation Irish American, his family always called him "Beto" (a common Spanish nickname for first names ending in "–berto") initially to distinguish him from his namesake grandfather. His mother was the owner of a high-end furniture store, and is the stepdaughter of Fred Korth, who was the Secretary of the Navy under President John F. Kennedy. His father served in El Paso as County Commissioner and then County Judge.[a] He was a political associate of former Texas Governor Mark White, and served as the state chairman of Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign. A long time Democrat, he switched parties in 1996 and ran an unsuccessful bid for Congress. Pat O'Rourke was killed in July 2001 at the age of 58 when he was struck from behind by a car while riding his bicycle over the New Mexico state line.
O'Rourke attended Carlos Rivera and Mesita Elementary schools. After spending one year at El Paso High School, he enrolled in Woodberry Forest School, and all-male boarding school in Madison County, Virginia, in 1991. While it was an academic opportunity, according to O'Rourke's, it was also "a way to get some distance" from his "dominant" father. O'Rourke attended Columbia University where in his junior year he co-captained Columbia's heavyweight rowing crew. He graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature. He is fluent in Spanish.
O'Rourke was arrested by University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) police in 1995 on burglary charges after jumping a fence on the university's property. The UTEP police department later declined to pursue charges. O'Rourke was arrested, after a crash in Anthony, Texas at 3:00 a.m. on September 27, 1998, for driving while intoxicated (DWI), but the charges were dismissed in 1999 after he completed a court-recommended DWI program. He has publicly discussed the incident since that time and has apologized for it.
As a teen, he developed a love for punk music, along with two of his friends from El Paso— Mike Stevens and Arlo Klahr. They each began to learn to play instruments, and by the beginning of his freshman year at Columbia in 1991, the trio recruited drummer Cedric Bixler-Zavala (eventual vocalist for At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta), and they formed the band Foss. During their summers they toured the US and Canada. O'Rourke was a bassist. The group released a self-titled demo and a 7" record, "The El Paso Pussycats", on Western Breed Records in 1993.
Business career (1995–2005)
Following college, O'Rourke worked as a live-in nanny for a family in Manhattan, then at Hedley's Humpers as an art mover, before working with his uncle at a startup internet service provider. During this time, he fell into a depression, unsure of what to do with his life. However, his friends Stevens and Klahr (along with his friend from college, David Guinn) joined him in New York, and they rented and renovated an inexpensive 2000-square-foot factory loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Interested in the publishing industry, he found a job as a proofreader at H. W. Wilson Company in the Bronx, and wrote short stories and songs in his free time. He began to miss his family and lifestyle in El Paso, and returned to the city in 1998.
After coming home, O'Rourke wanted to tackle the "brain drain" of El Paso, or the exodus of youth because of lack of opportunity. The following year, he co-founded Stanton Street Technology, an internet services and software company that develops websites and software. His wife, Amy, operates the business as of March 2017. For a few years, the company also published an online (and briefly print) newspaper, also called Stanton Street, that O'Rourke modeled off of alternative periodicals like the Village Voice and the New York Press.
El Paso City Council (2005–2011)
O'Rourke was inspired politically after the successful mayoral run of Ray Caballero, who's platform promoted the idea that El Paso was great and should expect greatness of itself—ideas O'Rourke's own father had espoused as well. When Caballero failed to get re-elected, however, O’Rourke—along with Susie Byrd, attorney Steve Ortega, and former Caballero staffer Veronica Escobar—considered entering public service, and started to discuss grassroots strategies with the goals of improving urban planning, creating a more diversified economy with more highly skilled jobs, and ending systemic corruption among city leadership. O'Rourke initially considered running for county judge, but his friends persuaded him to run for city council instead. In mid-2005, O'Rourke ran for the El Paso City Council, running on a platform of downtown development and border reform.
O’Rourke, Byrd, and Ortega all ran for office and all won; they came to be collectively referred to as "The Progressives." O'Rourke defeated two-term incumbent City Councilman Anthony Cobos 57 percent to 43 percent. O'Rourke is one of the youngest representatives ever to have served on the City Council. In 2007, he won re-election to a second term, defeating Trini Acevedo 70 percent to 30 percent. During his first term, he backed a development plan that would convert a depressed area of El Paso into a business district, including an arena, major retailers, and an arts walk. The initiative faced opposition, principally from small businesses and Chicano activists who did not want the historic El Segundo Barrio neighborhood gentrified. O'Rourke responded with an on-foot campaign to residents of the neighborhood and a series of meetings with local business leaders to hear concerns; the effort was met with a controversial mix of support and cynicism. An El Paso activist initiated a failed recall campaign against O’Rourke, and downtown property owners filed two ethics complaints against him for conflict of interest, which investigators dismissed. Ultimately, the redevelopment plans were only partially realized.
In January 2009, O'Rourke sponsored a resolution calling for a "comprehensive examination" of the War on Drugs and "the repeal of ineffective marijuana laws". The resolution, which was unanimously supported by his colleagues on the El Paso City Council, was vetoed by then-Mayor John Cook and spurred a larger national discussion on the topic. He told reporters that the reason he decided to speak up about what he called the failed war on drugs was the thousands of people who have been killed in the drug war in the adjoining city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. "I hope it has all had its intended effect of starting the national discussion of the wisdom of the war on drugs […] and probably more importantly, helping to bring about a better solution than the status quo, which has led to the terror and tragedy in Juarez."
U.S. House of Representatives (2012–present)
In 2012, O'Rourke filed for the Democratic primary against the eight-term Silvestre Reyes to represent Texas's 16th congressional district. The primary was seen as the real[according to whom?] contest in the deeply Democratic, Latino-majority district. Byrd ran O’Rourke's field operation and Escobar was head of communication. O'Rourke took 50.5 percent of the vote, just a few hundred votes above the threshold required to avoid a runoff against Reyes. He was contrasted with Reyes in his support for LGBT rights and drug liberalization. His campaign was largely on foot, and he reportedly knocked on 160,000 doors. He defeated his Republican opponent, Barbara Carrasco, in the general election with 65 percent of the vote.
As a Congressman, he's held at least one town hall meeting every month. In March 2013, O'Rourke and Republican Steve Pearce of New Mexico introduced the Border Enforcement Accountability, Oversight, and Community Engagement Act, legislation proposed to establish an ombudsman within the Department of Homeland Security that would investigate allegations of violence and civil-rights violations by CBP, create an commission that would overview the agency's policies and provide insight on how to spend its $18 billion annual budget, increase the training required for officers and agents, and establish protocols under which CBP would be required to report deaths at the border or agents' use of force. He co-sponsored the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, which was enacted in 2014. Notably, Section 506 allowed the US Customs and Border Protection to enter into public-private partnerships with local entities to help fund overtime pay to customs officers at ports of entry, which helped fund the personnel to lower wait times at the border. El Paso was one of five cities chosen to participate in the program.
During his bid for re-election in the fall of 2014, O'Rourke donated at least $28,000 from his own campaign funds to fellow Democratic candidates for House seats. O'Rourke was re-elected in 2014 with 67 percent of the vote.
In November 2014, O'Rourke opposed Obama using an executive action to spare approximately 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, and by passing Congress, saying "the motive is noble, but the means are really hard to stomach."
In June 2016, O'Rourke endorsed Hillary Clinton for President, being one of the last Democratic congressmen to support her during the primary. As a sitting member of Congress, O'Rourke was a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention. In October 2015, O'Rourke announced his bid for a third term in 2016. He won the Democratic primary and defeated his Green and Libertarian opponents in the general election. When Nancy Pelosi faced a leadership challenge from Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, O'Rourke backed Ryan. O'Rourke said that he believed in term limits, and therefore that it was time for new leadership. Personally, he has given himself a term limit in the House, and he promises not to serve any more than 12 years in the Senate.
In 2017, the senator along with Steve Pearce of New Mexico and Eric Swalwell of California, sponsored the American Families United Act, which promoted the idea that US citizens have the right to sponsor their spouses for legal immigration.
- Committee on Armed Services
- Committee on Veterans' Affairs
2018 Senate campaign
As O'Rourke was considering entering the 2018 Senate race, political experts considered him the "longshot" candidate. Ben Terris of The Washington Post said he was suffering from a "bug" causing "mass delusions that the old rules of politics no longer apply." He asked, "Can a Democrat really win in this deeply red state—against Cruz, who will be running one of the best-financed campaigns in the country? And can he do so on a positive message about Mexicans in an era when calling them rapists helped make a man president?" Texans haven’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. On March 31, 2017, O'Rourke formally announced his candidacy for the United States Senate seat held by incumbent Republican Party member Ted Cruz. In March 2018, O'Rourke became the Democratic Party nominee, winning 61.8 percent of the primary vote.
O'Rourke has campaigned in all of Texas's 254 counties, sometimes drawing large crowds and sometimes speaking to as few as 15 or 20 people. He has said that he plans to run a positive campaign not focused on President Trump or Ted Cruz, although his political positions may be seen as a direct criticism of them. O'Rourke is running his campaign without professional pollsters or consultants and instead is relying on volunteers, many of whom have no experience in running a political campaign. Some supporters say that O'Rourke's "promise of compassion" more than any specific policy positions has drawn their support for him.
O'Rourke pledged not to accept PAC contributions for his Senate campaign. He raised $2 million within the first three months, mostly from small donations. During the campaign, PolitiFact rated his claim of not taking PAC money as "true". He received his first major organizational endorsement from End Citizens United in June 2017, which found that he had raised triple the funds of Cruz without accepting corporate special interest money. In the most recently reported quarter, he raised $10.4 million to Cruz's $4.6 million, with each candidate having raised $23 million by September 1. O'Rourke raised more than $38 million in the third quarter, three times Cruz's totals for the same period. It is the most raised in a U.S. Senate race in history. According to his campaign, the donations came from 802,836 individual contributions, mostly from Texas. When asked if he would share the funds with Democrats in other races, he declined, saying that he wanted to honor "the commitment that those who've contributed to this campaign have made to me."
The first of three scheduled debates with O'Rourkes's Republican opponent Ted Cruz took place on September 21, 2018. The candidates disagreed sharply on every topic of discussion including gun rights, immigration, marijuana legalization, the "take a knee" controversy, and other issues including the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. During the debate, O'Rourke was asked if he had fled the scene of his DWI arrest in 1998. He said he had not, admitted the incident was a "terrible mistake," and talked about the importance of taking advantage of second chances. At the close of the debate, the moderator asked them to "say something nice about each other." O'Rourke praised Cruz's parenting. Cruz returned the compliment, but then went on to compare O'Rourke to Bernie Sanders, saying he "admired [his] willingness to stand up for socialist beliefs and high taxes even though he knew it must be unpopular." O'Rourke replied, "True to form." Analysts opined that Cruz came off as more experienced and aggressive, while O'Rourke won over the crowd.
Cruz declined to participate in the third, town hall-style debate for CNN held on October 18, 2018. O'Rourke agreed to attend the town hall meeting, moderated by Dana Bush, alone. During the meeting, O'Rourke said he did not forsee himself running for President because of having young children. He said he regretted calling Cruz "Lyin' Ted" (a nickname given to the senator by President Trump) as it went against his commitment not to run a negative campaign. He confirmed that, if the opportunity presented itself, he would vote to impeach and indict Trump. He once again defended his Spanish nickname against accusations of cultural appropriation.
Singer and activist Willie Nelson announced his support for O’Rourke and held a rally for him on September 29 in Austin, Texas. In a statement, Nelson said, "My wife Annie and I have met and spoken with Beto and we share his concern for the direction things are headed. Beto embodies what is special about Texas, an energy and an integrity that is completely genuine.”
Polls and news coverage
A September 18, 2018, Quinnipiac poll based on phone interviews put Cruz 9 percentage points ahead of O’Rourke among likely voters, but a September 19 Ipsos online poll done in conjunction with Reuters and the University of Virginia showed O'Rourke leading Cruz by 2 percentage points. The Ipsos poll also questioned respondents about their major concerns; Republicans reported immigration as their major concern while Democrats reported healthcare. Questioned regarding their likelihood of voting in the midterm elections, more Democrats than Republicans reported the likelihood that they would turn out. Ipsos Vice President Chris Jackson said that this was interesting (since Republicans usually have the momentum advantage in Texas), and that "it demonstrates how Democrats are mobilized. This election is going to be really competitive and its going to be very hard fought." Going into the third debate on October 18, 2018, a CNN poll, conducted by SSRS, showed Cruz leading the campaign 52 percent to 45 percent among likely voters.
The media has made comparisons between O'Rourke and Obama while he was still in a Congressman, drawing parallels to their charismatic, optimistic speaking style and nationwide attention. The New Republic asserted the O'Rourke's Senate campaign was actually the beginning of a bid for the 2020 presidency, despite calling such assertions an "act of journalistic hedging," or a justification for the media extensively covering a candidate that is predicted to lose his race. Peter Hamby of Vanity Fair said that the energy O'Rourke's rallies fell a lot like those Obama's in 2007.
O'Rourke is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, which is described as moderate or centrist. He is sometimes considered to be a progressive or liberal Democrat. The non-partisan National Journal gave O'Rourke a composite ideology of 85 percent liberal and 15 percent conservative in 2013. Describing himself, O'Rourke has said that he does not know where he falls on the political spectrum, and he has sponsored bipartisan bills as well as broken with his party on issues like free trade. GovTrack places Representative O'Rourke near the ideological center of the House Democrats, being to the right of some and to the left of others; the American Civil Liberties Union gave him an 88-percent rating, while the United States Chamber of Commerce, a more fiscally conservative group, gave him a 47-percent rating. According to FiveThirtyEight, which tracks Congressional voting records, O'Rourke has voted in line with President Trump's position on legislation 28.7 percent of the time as of August 2018.
O'Rourke supports efforts to combat global warming. He supports putting a price on carbon emissions and wants to substantially increase the use of renewable energy. He has been a vocal critic of the Administration's elimination of greenhouse gas regulations and the shrinking of the budget for environmental projects.
O'Rourke has introduced legislation to establish a national monument at Castner Range, near El Paso and successfully included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act to protect the area, which includes a historic military training facility.
Business and the economy
O'Rourke supports stronger antitrust laws to break up monopolies which he believes "stifle competition and innovation". He promotes industry and business regulations that promote competition, help the economy to grow, and protect consumers. He believes, "We must connect those out of work with the high value jobs being created right here in Texas by investing in the training, certification and apprenticeship programs that make it possible." He differs sharply from Cruz in that he has received high scores from labor unions with lifetime and yearly position scores of 90–100 percent from the AFL-CIO to a 2017 Cruz score of nine percent, and a 95 percent lifetime score from AFSCME to a zero percent for Cruz.
O'Rourke is in favor of increasing federal aid to public schools in low-income communities. He believes that teachers and local education officials should have more autonomy in setting classroom standards with a reduction of emphasis on "arbitrary, high-stakes tests."
Allegheny College bestowed the 2018 Prize for Civility in Public Life to O'Rourke together with Will Hurd, a Texas Republican. In March 2017, facing snowstorm induced flight cancellations O’Rourke and Hurd, both stuck in San Antonio, needed to get back to Washington for a House vote. They rented a car and embarked on a 1,600-mile drive that they captured on Facebook Live. O'Rourke and Hurd have worked collaboratively on important legislation since the road trip.
O'Rourke favors the decriminalization of possession and sale of small amounts of cannabis. In 2011, O'Rourke co-authored a book, Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico, which in part argues for an end to the prohibition on marijuana. He has called for the arrest records of individuals sentenced for possession of small amounts of cannabis to be expunged. During the 2018 Senate campaign, O'Rourke's opponent, Ted Cruz, falsely claimed that O'Rourke sought to legalize heroin; what he had actually called for in 2009 was an "honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics".
O'Rourke has held monthly veterans town hall meetings since he was elected in 2013. Hearing about long wait times, especially regarding mental health, he did his own local survey of veterans. The results of his survey showed wait times far exceeding what the VA was reporting. To try to better meet veteran's needs, O'Rourke and others worked to establish a new program at the El Paso VA designed to care for military related health issues within the hospital while using community clinics or medical facilities in the area for more standard medical needs.
O'Rourke co-sponsored the bipartisan bill H.R. 1604, the Veterans' Mental Health Care Access Act, with Republican Congressmen Tom MacArthur, which expanded options for veterans seeking mental health care to non-VA facilities. O'Rourke serves on both the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, and the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees military installations such as Fort Bliss, headquartered in El Paso.
Criminal justice reform
In an essay he wrote for Houston Chronicle he repeated a common refrain of his campaign, that "Harris County Jail is the largest provider of mental health services in our state," and quoted the statistic that "the jail has more people receiving psychiatric treatment every day than the nine state mental hospitals in Texas combined." He proposed that politicians work to eliminate private, for-profit prisons, end the "war on drugs," stop using mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenses, end cash bail that disproportionately affects those unable to pay bail with longer jail sentences, and provide reentry programs to reduce recidivism for non-violent criminals.
O'Rourke voted against the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017, which made a permanent prohibition on the use of federal funds for abortions and made reforms to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to prohibit qualified health plans from including coverage for abortions.[non-primary source needed] He has a lifetime score of 100 percent from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and a rating of 100 percent from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
O'Rourke told the Dallas Voice that he called marriage equality a core civil rights issue during his House primary campaign. While on the El Paso City Council, O'Rourke led a successful fight to overturn the domestic partnership ban. He was a co-sponsor of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2013 (H.R. 3135).
Regarding healthcare, O'Rourke has expressed support for single-payer legislation to achieve universal health coverage, but has released a statement saying he's critical of John Conyers' Medicare For All bill (HR 676) for not allocating funds toward for-profit healthcare providers. He supports stabilization of the insurance markets to improve the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He also supports the expansion of Medicaid and is a co-sponsor of the Medicare-X Choice Act of 2017.
O'Rourke has spoken out against racial inequality. He supports the football players who have taken part in the "Take a knee" protests. Speaking in a video that went viral, O'Rourke said he believes there is "nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, anytime, anywhere or any place." He has also lamented the fact that despite being arrested twice in his youth, he was able to take advantage of a second chance, chances that are often "denied to too many of our fellow Texans, particularly those who don’t look like me or have access to the same opportunities that I did." In September 2018, Cruz posted to Twitter a video of O'Rourke in a Dallas church, largely attended by African-Americans, speaking out against the killing of Bothem Shem Jean, an unarmed black man in his own home, by an off-duty policy officer. In the video, the crowd gave the speech a standing ovation, and the video served to bolster O'Rourke's standing nationally, going viral and receiving wide praise. Political analysts wondered if Cruz's choice to post the video was a tactical error, or a dog whistle to racist members of his base.
O'Rourke denounced the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem as "provocative". He supports a two-state solution and believes that the U.S. could best support a peaceful settlement by urging Israel to discontinue settlements in the West Bank and assist the Palestinian Authority to negotiate in good faith and recognize Israel's right to exist.
In July 2018, O'Rourke said that Trump's performance while attending the 2018 Russia–United States summit in Helsinki warranted impeachment. Addressing the Trump–Putin joint press conference of July 16, he said standing "on stage in another country with the leader of another country who wants to and has sought to undermine this country, and to side with him over the United States—if I were asked to vote on this I would vote to impeach the president".
O'Rourke favors comprehensive immigration reform. As early as 2012, he asserted that his experience living on the border gave him "a strong understanding of immigration's impact on our community," calling El Paso "an Ellis Island to Latin America for more than 150 years," and spoke against 'militarizing' the border. O'Rourke opposed Trump's decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which granted temporary stay to some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors. O'Rourke said it is a "top priority" to protect DREAMers.
He has criticized President Donald Trump's rhetoric on immigration, saying: "[Trump is] constantly stoking anxiety and fear about Mexicans, immigrants and the border with Mexico. Unfortunately this President takes another step into a dark world of fear, isolation and separation." In June 2018, O'Rourke led protests in Tornillo, Texas, to protest the Trump administration family separation policy which involved the separation of children of immigrant families. The city is located just miles from the Rio Grande, the river that creates the border of the United States and Mexico in the state of Texas. The Trump administration had created a "tent-city" in Tornillo, where separated children were being held without their parents. O'Rourke called this practice "Un-American" and the responsibility of all Americans.
Ted Cruz asserted in 2018 that O'Rourke wanted "open borders and wants to take our guns." PolitiFact found that Cruz's claims were "false," noting that O'Rourke had "not called for opening the borders or for government agents to take guns from law-abiding residents."
On the evening of June 22, 2016, O'Rourke participated in the sit-in in the House of Representatives that attempted to force a vote on gun control legislation. When the Republicans ordered C-SPAN to turn off its normal coverage of the chamber, O'Rourke and Representative Scott Peters transmitted images by cell phone to social media for C-SPAN to broadcast.
He supports universal background checks for gun purchases. On March 7, 2018, O'Rourke told Alisyn Camerota of CNN: "We have a great tradition and culture of gun ownership and gun safety for hunting, for sport, for self-defense... I think that can allow Texas to take the lead on a really tough issue, which the country is waiting for leadership and action on." He has called for a complete ban on assault rifles.
O'Rourke married Amy Hoover Sanders, the daughter of Louann and William Sanders of El Paso, on September 24, 2005, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The couple, with their three children: Ulysses, Molly, and Henry, live in the Sunset Heights area of El Paso in a mission-style house reportedly where General Hugh Scott and Pancho Villa met in 1915. Louann Sanders is the director of education development for the La Fe Community Development Corporation and executive director of the La Fe Preparatory charter school. O'Rourke is a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
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- Beto O'Rourke for Senate
- Beto O'Rourke at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
- Appearances on C-SPAN
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- Profile at Vote Smart
- Financial information (federal office) at the Federal Election Commission
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- Beto leading "Bike-To-Work Week"
- (subscription required)The Bloody Border, Time, April 23, 2009
- Lights, Camera, Mayhem!, Melissa del Bosque Texas Observer, April 17, 2009
| Member of the El Paso City Council
from the 8th district
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 16th congressional district
|Party political offices|
| Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Texas
|Current U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
| United States Representatives by seniority