On campuses, O’Rourke takes rather than gives advice

NEW LONDON, N.H. (AP) — It’s going to be a busy weekend for college commencements in New Hampshire, but Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke said Friday he would rather take advice from graduates than dole it out.

The former Texas congressman’s visit to Colby-Sawyer College on Friday was his 32nd appearance on a college campus in the last seven weeks, and he planned to hit Dartmouth College later in the day.

At the first stop, he was questioned by a Colby-Sawyer senior who worked with refugees in Greece last summer and is graduating Saturday. O’Rourke told her he would not just reverse the Trump administration’s elimination of aid to the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, but would also double it to $1 billion.

“President Trump wants to zero that out as punishment to them knowing — well, I shouldn’t assume anything on his part — but that will not make it better. That will exacerbate the problem. There will be more coming north if he does that,” he said.

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“The best way to meet this challenge is obviously not with the cages, not with the fence, not with the wall, but to go to the Northern Triangle countries themselves, work with local communities, and some cases beyond the government … to reduce violence, to improve the likelihood that those communities can stabilize and that no mother has to envision sending her 3-year-old boy on a 2,000-mile journey,” he said.

Colby-Sawyer is among at least five New Hampshire colleges holding commencement ceremonies this weekend, including Southern New Hampshire University, where students will hear from another Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

O’Rourke, mentioning the student who questioned him, said candidates should spend more time listening to young people than lecturing them.

“She’s already helping refugees. It’s her advice I should be following on this stuff. That’s pretty inspiring,” he said. “That’s so often the case not just on college campuses but in high schools, even on issues like resettling refugees, humanitarian challenges, gun violence, health care, climate. You name it, young people are leading on it. … We’re going where the leadership is.”

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On gun violence, O’Rourke offered a slightly different take on Booker’s proposal that all gun owners be licensed by the federal government. While he earlier said the proposal went too far, on Friday he appeared more open to the idea.

“As I’ve thought about it, I really think we should be looking at everything, and if it is not politically feasible to do today, that should not qualify it from consideration,” he said.

The two-day swing was O’Rourke’s third trip to New Hampshire, which will hold the first presidential primaries in 2020. He was accompanied by his wife, Amy, though none of those who attended the New London event took him up on his offer to ask her a question.