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Castro calls on Democratic voters to push past ‘safe choice’ in 2020

Democratic 2020 hopeful Julian Castro said on Wednesday that he thinks voters are gravitating towards the safe choice, or familiar profile of a candidate that they think can beat President Donald Trump. He called on voters to think more broadly.

“I think we should turn that on its head,” the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama said in an interview with PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff. He pointed to Obama’s ability to assemble a diverse, young, working-class coalition of people to turn out to the voting booths and said he has confidence he can accomplish the same. 

Other highlights from the interview: 

  • On campaign finances: Castro  told Woodruff that he believes his campaign will make it through a self-imposed fundraising deadline to raise $800,000 by October 31. The 2020 hopeful said last week that if his campaign did not receive such support, it would be “silenced for good.” “We’re not quite there yet, but we’ve gotten grassroots contributions from all over the country,” Castro said Wednesday.
  • On health care: Castro also said that his health care plan — which would automatically enroll everybody in Medicare while allowing people to opt-out and remain on private insurance — is better than the plan proposed by former Vice President Joe Biden’ because it is more inclusive. Biden’s plan, by contrast, allows people to opt-in to Medicare, but Castro said it would “would leave 10 million people uninsured.”
  • On benefits to undocumented immigrants: “If I were president right now, I would allow folks — if they’re uncodumented — to buy into the exchanges, so that they’re contributing something into the system and they’re able to get preventative care,” Castro said in defense of his support to provide health care to undocumented immigrants who are already in the U.S. “[Taxpayers] are already paying for people’s healthcare in this country, it’s called the emergency room,” he said.
  • On immigration: Decriminalizing illegal border crossings does not mean “open borders,” according to Castro. “Crossing the border without permission would still be against the law, but we would treat it like we used to treat it for more than fifty years — under Democratic and Republican presidents — when it was considered a civil offense.” Castro said that Trump has “weaponized”  the legal system in order to deter migration. The former secretary wants to reverse the Section 1325 of U.S. immigration law to eliminate the possibility for future administrations to separate families.
  • On electability: Castro also emphasized his track record of executive experience — as Mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama — as a qualifier for his candidacy. He continued: “I want to make sure that everyone counts in this country. Not just 37 percent of the country that [President Trump] considers his base, but everybody.”

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Julian Castro made his debut on the national stage in 2012, when he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention as the mayor of San Antonio, Texas. He later joined the Obama administration as the secretary of housing and urban development.

    And, today, he's one of 17 Democrats vying to win his party's presidential nomination.

    Joining us now from his home town of San Antonio, Julian Castro.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Julián Castro:

    Great to be with you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I want to start with a question I have been asking every one of the candidates.

    And that is, why you? Why are you in a better position, why are you more qualified than everyone else to be the Democratic nominee?

  • Julián Castro:

    That's a great question, and probably the question that those of us on the campaign trail get asked the most.

    Look, I think that people are looking for three things this year. Number one, they want somebody with the right experience to be president. They want somebody with a strong, compelling vision about the future of our country. And, of course, they somebody that can beat Donald Trump.

    I'm one of the very few candidates with strong executive experience. I have actually been in charge of something and gotten things done. I was mayor of the seventh largest city, my home town of San Antonio. And I served as secretary of housing and urban development under President Obama, managing a department that had 8,000 employees, a $48 billion budget, offices across the country.

    So I have a strong track record of executive experience. I also have a strong, compelling vision for the future. I want to make sure that everyone counts in this country, not just the 37 percent of the country that this president considers his base, but everybody.

    And I have outlined a blueprint for everybody to be able to prosper in the years ahead. And I can beat Donald Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A number of things I want to ask you about.

    One of the issues you have stressed is immigration. You favor decriminalizing border crossings. What does that mean? Does it mean open borders?

  • Julián Castro:

    It doesn't.

    It means that crossing the border without permission would still be against the law, but we would treat it like we used to treat it for more than 50 years under Democratic and Republican presidents, when it was considered a civil offense.

    The reason that I believe we need to go back to how we used to treat it, and do it effectively, is that, when Trump came in, he weaponized one particular section of the law that was passed in 1929, but wasn't enforced for more than five decades.

    And he's using that misdemeanor crime to incarcerate migrant parents and to take them away from their kids.

    What I have said is that I believe we can have accountability, we can have a secure border, but we can do it with common sense and compassion, instead of cruelty. And I don't want that tool to be in the toolbox for a future administration, like a Trump administration, to separate families.

    So I'm trying to end family separation, but still keep an orderly immigration system.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some of your opponents disagree with you.

    Joe Biden says people should have to wait in line. Governor Steve Bullock of Montana said the other day this would lead to an explosion of people at the border.

    My question is, would you offer them free health care once they came across?

  • Julián Castro:

    Well, I mean, let's just get something straight.

    Under Donald Trump, our immigration challenge has actually gotten worse, not better. A couple of months ago, we had 144,000 people that showed up at the southern border. We have had more people that are coming because he didn't do what I have said that he should do, which is, for instance, a 21st century Marshall Plan for Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, so that people can find safety and opportunity at home, instead of having to make the dangerous journey to the United States.

    We need to engage in some preventive action, so that we won't see so many people show up at the southern end of our border.

    With regard to health care for undocumented immigrants who are already here, I believe that everybody in this country should be able to access health care.

    Now, why do I say that? Number one, if you're a taxpayer out there, you may hear that and wonder like, you know, what are you talking about? You are already paying for people's health care in this country. It's called the emergency room.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Julián Castro:

    People show up in the emergency room, and that's most costly way that we can do health care.

    If I were president right now, I would allow folks, if they were undocumented, to buy into the exchanges…

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Julián Castro:

    … so that they're contributing something into the system and they're able to get preventative care. I think that's smarter and a cheaper way to do it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me just ask you several other things.

    Health care for all of us, your proposal is to automatically enroll everybody into a Medicare plan, but give them the chance to opt out if they want to keep their private insurance.

    Joe Biden has kind of the mirror image of that. He would have people have to opt in if they want to join Medicare for all.

    Why is your proposal better than his?

  • Julián Castro:

    The difference is that my plan would cover everybody, whereas Joe Biden's plan would leave 10 million people uninsured.

    If we're going to go through all of the battle that's involved in reworking our health care system, it makes no sense to leave 10 million people uninsured at the end of the day. So, if we're going to do it, we need to do it right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Staying in the race, you made a pretty, I think it's fair to say, desperate appeal for money about nine days ago.

    You tweeted out a message saying, if you couldn't raise $800,000 by October 31 — that's tomorrow — that your campaign would be silenced for good.

    Are you going to make it?

  • Julián Castro:

    I believe that we will. We're not quite there yet. But we have gotten grassroots contributions from all over the country, people putting in $5, $15, $25.

    I'm very proud that I have one of the highest rates of small-dollar contributions. I think our average contribution last quarter was $18. So it's Americans from all walks of life. You know, I'm not taking any PAC money, any federal lobbyist money, any money from big oil and gas, energy executives.

    It's powered by the people of this country. I believe that we're going to make it. And then we're going to fight like crazy over the next two weeks to try and get on that debate stage in November.

    And so I'm going to be in Iowa on Friday at the Liberty and Justice dinner. I'm going to be in Iowa for a few days and also in some of these early states continuing to work hard.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The New York Times ran a story today noticing that, even though the Democrats are fielding the most diverse group of candidates than ever this year, that the candidates who seem to be at the top are all either white men three of them, Biden, Sanders, and Buttigieg, or a white woman, Elizabeth Warren, and that the candidates of color, you and others, aren't there.

    Do you have a theory about why that is?

  • Julián Castro:

    People tend to gravitate, right now at least, toward this idea that you have to go with a safe choice or a certain profile of candidate that they think can win in Pennsylvania or in Ohio or in Michigan.

    But I think we should actually turn that over on its head. The last time that we actually won big was with Barack Obama, because he assembled an unprecedented, diverse, young, working-class coalition of people that rose up, that got off the sidelines, and into the voting booths.

    I'm confident that I can do that if I'm the nominee.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Julian Castro, seeking the Democratic nomination for president, thank you very much.

  • Julián Castro:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And our interviews with Democratic candidates continue on Friday, when I travel to Iowa to sit down with former Vice President Joe Biden.

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