O’Rourke accepts ‘Ellen’ invite as kneeling takes center stage in race

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O’Rourke accepts ‘Ellen’ invite as kneeling takes center stage in race

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, will appear on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” the program’s host announced Tuesday.

“See you September 5th, @BetoORourke,” DeGeneres said in a Twitter post.

DeGeneres said she wanted to meet the Senate hopeful after seeing a video from media company NowThis in which O’Rourke explains why he supports National Football League players who protest the national anthem.

O’Rourke, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he doesn’t find kneeling during the national anthem disrespectful.

“Peaceful, non-violent protests, including taking a knee at a football game to point out that black men, unarmed, black teenagers, unarmed, and black children unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement, without accountability and without justice,” O’Rourke said in part. “And this problem — as grave as it is — is not gonna fix itself, and they’re frustrated, frankly, with people like me, and those in positions of public trust and power who have been unable to resolve this, or bring justice for what has been done, and to stop it from continuing to happen in this country. And so non-violently, peacefully, while the eyes of this country are watching these games, they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it. That is why they’re doing it, and I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights anytime, anywhere, any place.”

The video had 18 million views on Twitter and 25 million on Facebook as of Tuesday afternoon.

It’s unlikely — and perhaps unthinkable — that Congress would take action on NFL anthem protests, but it’s become a front-and-center issue in the Senate race.

Cruz’s campaign released an advertisement Monday deriding O’Rourke’s comments.

Commenting on celebrity reception to O’Rourke’s comments, the narrator in the advertisement says, “Liberal Hollywood was thrilled, but do Texans agree?”

“Who ever believed that we would have issues about whether you’re going to stand during the National Anthem or not,” Retired Marine Sgt. Tim Lee says in footage of him at an event.

“Tim Lee, a Texan, served in Vietnam. On March 8, 1971, he stepped on a landmine,” the narrator says.

“I gave two legs for this country,” Lee continues. “I’m not able to stand, but I sure expect you to stand for me when that national anthem is being played.”

“In November, where will you stand?” the narrator says.

O’Rourke told reporters Monday he appreciates differing opinions on the issue.

“I’m grateful to those who call attention to the things that we must change,” he said. “I’m grateful to those who come to a different conclusion on this issue and express their First Amendment right to say that they wish the NFL players would do this in a different way. But inherently all of this is American, right? We can have this debate, this discussion, ultimately a dialogue and make things better by listening to and working with one another and seeing someone as no less American for their views or the way in which they express them.”

President Donald Trump has weighed in on the issue numerous times, calling for football players to be suspended or fired for protesting the anthem. He escalated the issue during a Sept. 22, 2017 rally in Huntsville, Alabama, by using profanity.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired,’” Trump said.

Vice President Mike Pence, more than a year after anthem protests began, left an Oct. 8, 2017 game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers, after members of the 49ers knelt as the anthem played. Members of the Colts weeks before had knelt during the anthem. Critics called Pence’s departure a publicity stunt.

“I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” Pence, a former Indiana governor, said in a statement, according to NPR.

Trump later said he asked Pence to leave the game if any player knelt.

Additional reporting from American-Statesman staff writer Ken Herman.

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