Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a candidate for the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination, used a televised town hall event Tuesday night to spread the debunked claim that President Trump called asylum-seekers “animals."
The remarks from the former congressman from El Paso, Texas, came in response to the first question during the CNN event, which took place in Des Moines, Iowa, capital of the state where the first caucuses of next year's election season will be held.
Sarah Duncan, a research associate from the political organization Vote Smart, asked O'Rourke how he planned to "restore global trust in American leadership."
The candidate began by calling Trump's domestic and foreign policy a "disaster."
“Describing those immigrants who come into this country as rapists and criminals -- though they commit crimes at a far lower rate than those who were born in this country -- describing asylum-seekers as animals or an infestation. An infestation is how you might describe a termite or a cockroach -- something you want to stamp out, something less than human," O'Rourke said.
"You don't get kids in cages at the border unless you dehumanize them in the eyes of your fellow Americans," he added. "The day that the president signed his executive order attempting to ban Muslim travel to the United States is the day that the mosque in Victoria, Texas, was literally torched to the ground."
"The day that the president signed his executive order attempting to ban Muslim travel to the United States is the day that the mosque in Victoria, Texas, was literally torched to the ground."
But O'Rourke's false claim went unchallenged by CNN Town Hall moderator Dana Bash.
Trump's "animals" remark came in May 2018, on Long Island, N.Y., at a roundtable discussion of illegal immigration and sanctuary city policies. During a discussion with law enforcement officials, a sheriff referred to members of the violent gang MS-13.
President Trump responded by slamming MS-13 gang members, not migrants in general, as “animals.”
"We have people coming into our country -- trying to come into our country, we're stopping a lot of them -- but we're taking people out of the country. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals," Trump said.
At the time, his comments were taken out of context as if called all migrants "animals," a falsehood that was spread by high-profile Democrats as well as many members of the media. The video went viral again in April after a Twitter user uploaded the same clip --- and falsely claimed President Trump referred to asylum seekers as "animals."
O'Rourke went on to slam Trump for embracing Russian President Vladimir Putin and call Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation a "hoax" during a conversation after the report's release.
When asked about how he would address immigration if elected, O’Rourke vowed to grant citizenship to DREAMers and offer a pathway to citizenship for all other illegal immigrants in the country.