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The political arm of the Texas AFL-CIO has declined to endorse U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, in his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, after O'Rourke did not appear at its convention this weekend in Austin.
On Sunday, the labor group released a list of statewide candidates it had decided to support, and it offered no endorsement in the Senate race. The group's constitution requires two-thirds support to endorse a candidate, and O'Rourke did not make the cut, said Rick Levy, the president of the Texas AFL-CIO.
"I think that our members don’t like to be just taken for granted," Levy told The Texas Tribune. "Just because you have a D or an R behind your name doesn’t determine whether you’ll have our support."
O'Rourke said in an interview that his campaign had tried to find a way for him to make it to the convention, but he was unable to attend because he had previously scheduled campaign events elsewhere in the state. He ended up canceling those events, though, because he was stuck in Washington, D.C., over the weekend due to the government shutdown.
O'Rourke noted the AFL-CIO gave him a 100 percent rating on his voting record in 2016, and his lifetime score is 95 percent. Cruz, on the other hand, got 67 percent in 2016 and 12 percent overall.
"It’s on me to further develop and strengthen those relationships, and if anybody feels they’re being taken for granted, that’s on me to fix," said O'Rourke, who faces two little-known opponents in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. "I'm just going to do a better job reaching out and trying to work with the members of the AFL-CIO."
O'Rourke could still win the support of the AFL-CIO. It said Sunday its "endorsements are subject to updates based on primary and runoff election results and other factors." After the list came out, O'Rourke said he spoke with Levy and had a productive conversation.
Explaining the decision not to make an endorsement in the Senate contest, Levy also said some members "had significant concerns about the congressman's commitment to fighting for working people, and unfortunately, he wasn't at the convention to address any of those concerns."
One of those concerns was likely O'Rourke's support in 2015 for allowing then-President Barack Obama to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement with 11 Pacific Rim countries. Labor unions — including the Texas AFL-CIO — vocally opposed it, believing it would threaten American jobs.
On Sunday, O'Rourke stood by his vote to give Obama so-called trade promotion authority, saying the choice was to let the Democratic president negotiate the deal or let it fall to Republican committee chairmen in the House. He noted it did not mean that he supported the trade deal itself, about which he said he still has "some outstanding concerns" regarding its impact on his El Paso-based district.
"It was absolutely the right decision to make for Texas and the country," O'Rourke said of his vote to allow Obama to negotiate the agreement. "The president stood a much better chance of representing our values ... than anyone else in government."
As part of its statewide endorsements Sunday, the labor group also picked Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, over Andrew White, the son of late Gov. Mark White, in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. The endorsement came a day after White and Valdez — two of nine Democrats running for governor — participated in a forum at the Texas AFL-CIO convention.