President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to sign executive order promoting artificial intelligence Trump’s new Syria timetable raises concern among key anti-ISIS allies Trump officials considering Mar-a-Lago for next meeting with China’s Xi: report MORE on Monday knocked Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, as the two men held competing rallies in the border city of El Paso, Texas.
Trump traveled to the Lone Star State to make his case for a border wall. But he appeared just as interested in countering O’Rourke, who staged his own demonstration against the president’s immigration policies that reportedly drew thousands of people just blocks away from Trump’s event.
“He challenged us,” the president said, claiming he drew a larger crowd than O’Rourke in the former congressman’s own hometown.
“Not good,” Trump added. “I would say that may be the end of his presidential bid.”
The dueling events served as a preview of the 2020 election, which will feature an intense battle between Trump and Democrats over their agendas and personalities. Trump made clear he plans to make immigration a front-and-center issue, even though that strategy produced mixed results in the 2018 midterms, and O’Rourke was eager to hit back.
“With the eyes of the country upon us, all of you together are going to make our stand in one of the safest cities in the United States of America,” the Texas Democrat said at his rally on Monday night. “Safe not because of walls but in spite of walls.”
But Trump told his supporters he plans to go ahead and build a border wall regardless of whether Congress gives him the funds necessary to do so.
“Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway,” Trump said, drawing cheers and applause from the crowd.
When supporters chanted “build the wall” at Trump’s rally, he corrected them to say “finish the wall,” the slogan that appeared on banners hanging from the rafters inside the El Paso County Coliseum.
Trump has repeatedly claimed his wall is being built in an effort to ensure supporters he is fulfilling a major 2016 campaign promise. But existing work is almost exclusively focused on repairing or replacing existing barriers. Construction is set to begin this week on more than a dozen miles of new barrier in the Rio Grande Valley.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill announced shortly before the rally they had reached an agreement in principle to avert another government shutdown before funding lapses on Friday. A group of bipartisan House and Senate negotiators have been working toward a deal since Trump reopened the government on Jan. 25 after a 35-day shutdown over his demands for wall money.
The agreement would provide $1.375 billion in funding for 55 miles of new barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border that would be comprised of steel slats or bollards, not concrete, according to a congressional source. The figure is well below the $5.7 billion Trump has demanded since December.
Lawmakers, who appeared to have reached a stalemate over the weekend, are now looking for Trump’s approval on their breakthrough proposal. But the president said he knew little about the agreement, other than that “progress is being made.”
He said he was more interested in spending time with his supporters in Texas than monitoring the talks from the White House, telling the crowd “I chose you.”
But the deal received blowback from some of Trump’s conservative supporters, including Sean Hannity, who blasted it as a “garbage compromise” on his Fox News broadcast of the rally and said any Republican who supports it will “have to explain” why.
Conservative media criticism of a spending deal last December that included no wall money helped prompt Trump to shut down the government.
The president on Monday defended his decision, even though his approval ratings took a major hit as a result.
“If we didn’t do that shutdown we would not have been able to show this country, these politicians, the world, what the hell is happening with the border,” he said. “That was a very important thing we did.”
The president chose to travel to El Paso because said it illustrates why a wall is needed, claiming the city went from one of the most dangerous places in the U.S. to one of the safest when barriers were built.
But federal crime data shows the Texas city was already one of the safest of its size before the construction of border fencing roughly a decade ago.
O’Rourke joined other Democrats and local officials in pushing back on Trump for singling out El Paso, calling on voters to “stand against the truth against lies, hate, intolerance.”
But Trump countered that “people were full of crap” if they said a border fence hasn’t made a difference in reducing crime in the area.
“There’s no place better to talk about border security whether they like it or not,” the president said.
Trump’s rally on Monday was his first since the November midterms, when Democrats took control of the House. The president used much of his speech to paint his newly emboldened opponents as extreme, a strategy he appears intent on using in his reelection race.
The president hammered Democrats over the “Green New Deal,” a sweeping plan to address global warming introduced by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.), as well as proposals that would ease restrictions on late-term abortions in states like Virginia and Texas.
“The Democrat Party has never been more outside of the mainstream,” Trump said. “They are becoming the party of socialism, late-term abortion, open borders and crime.”
He claimed the climate proposal would allow the government to abolish cars, airplanes and even cows. The plan calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero over 10 years while guaranteeing jobs for all Americans. It proposes overhauling transportation systems “as much as technologically feasible.”
Trump also attacked special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, which many in Washington speculate is nearing its end and could cause political headaches for the president when it does.
“It’s a hoax. It’s a disgrace. And it should never be allowed to happen again,” he said.
-Updated 11:45 p.m.