AP NEWS

Vela endorses Biden over friends Julián Castro, Beto O’Rourke

May 16, 2019

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, endorsed Joe Biden for president Tuesday, choosing the former vice president over his Texas friends Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke, who are also running for president.

“Love ’em,” Vela said in a text message, “but I’m with Tío Joe.”

Vela, who entered the U.S. House of Representatives the same day as O’Rourke and who campaigned for O’Rourke during his near-miss U.S. Senate run last year, broke with his Rio Grande Valley colleague, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, who endorsed Castro in March. Vela has said, however, that he donated to Castro and O’Rourke’s campaigns when they announced their 2020 bids earlier this year.

“America needs Joe Biden,” Vela said in a statement. “Joe Biden will restore our nation’s spirit and make America feel good again. Joe Biden will use his enduring record of fighting for the working and middle-class Americans and reinvigorate America’s soul.”

Vela’s endorsement of the 76-year-old Biden comes a few months after he and other House Democrats disavowed Rep. Nancy Pelosi in her bid for another term as U.S. House Speaker, following Democrats’ take over of the U.S. House in the November midterm elections, saying the party was ready for a new generation of leadership. However, Vela eventually supported Pelosi and she tapped Vela for a new committee appointment on the House Armed Services Committee. Vela has also fundraised alongside Pelosi in Texas this year and has supported her leadership, despite not being the type of new generation he initially said he was looking for in the house speaker.

Vela’s endorsement also offers a reminder for O’Rourke that his friends and former colleagues are not to be taken for granted. After initially appearing in the upper echelon of polls among the still-growing field of Democratic candidates, O’Rourke has seen his name dip in the polls recently, leading to a sort of campaign relaunch this week, appearing on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show Monday night and on “The View” Tuesday morning, where host Whoopi Goldberg asked: “This is your relaunch today, maybe?”

O’Rourke told Maddow: “I recognize that I can do a better job.”

However, O’Rourke also made a case for himself and for Texas.

“Texas and its 38 Electoral College votes have been unlocked,” he said. “They are in contention, and we will have a seat at the table.”

Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary, has been barnstorming across the country campaigning, and he is the only candidate of the more than 20 to release an in-depth immigration policy plan. Gonzalez based his endorsement of Castro in part on him being a worthy Latino candidate for a national office that has never seen one.

“On the national stage, folks like to sometimes say we can’t find qualified candidates to fill national positions within the Latino community,” Gonzalez said in March when he endorsed Castro. “Well, I found one and there are many more. I wouldn’t make this endorsement if he wasn’t up for the job. With that being said, there’s a treacherous road ahead in this crowded field. And only time will tell.”

That treacherous road has proved true for Castro, who has struggled to gain significant traction in the polls. It’s early — the Iowa Democratic caucus is not until February.

And while Vela decided not to back either Texas Democrat, both Castro and O’Rourke would probably agree with Vela’s assessment of President Trump.

“The Trump experience has created a degree of instability that is tearing right through the moral fabric of the United States of America,” Vela said in his statement endorsing Biden. “Trump’s policies have given the ultra-wealthy tax breaks on the backs of middle class Americans, separated children from their parents and wreaked havoc on our nation’s farmers. Our country’s future is at stake, and we cannot afford four more years of this kind of volatility.”

mferman@themonitor.com