EL PASO, Texas (CN) – In his first campaign-style rally of the year, President Donald Trump assured supporters that his signature promise of a border wall will be built “any way,” blocks away from where Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke held his own rally decrying the administration’s illegal immigration policies.
About 6,500 people filled the El Paso County Coliseum for Trump’s rally just as congressional negotiators announced that a deal had been reached to fund construction of new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border for about $1.4 billion.
O’Rourke, the former three-term congressman from El Paso, spoke at about the same time Trump rallied supporters, in venues less than a mile apart, and with messages that offered wildly different views of the country.
Before delivering his remarks, O’Rourke, his wife Amy and their three children joined a one-mile march with hundreds of opponents of Trump’s proposed border wall toward Trump’s rally.
Trump’s visit to El Paso, just north of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, came four days before the government was set to shutdown if a deal with a bipartisan group of lawmakers over funding to build a wall along the southern border fell through before a Friday deadline.
The Trump administration initially requested $5.7 billion for a border wall and suggested another government shutdown is possible if wall funding is not included in the deal. The agreement calls for construction of 55 miles of fencing, such as metal slats rather than a wall, in the Rio Grande Valley.
Trump took the stage around 8:20 p.m. to the song “I’m Proud to Be an American” and chants of “USA! USA! USA!” He downplayed news that the bipartisan committee had struck a deal to avert another government shutdown.
“They said progress is being made with this committee. Just so you know we are building the wall any way. I said, ‘Wait a minute I have to take care of my people from Texas. I don’t even want to hear about it.’”
But before a hometown audience Monday night, O’Rourke offered a preview of what a potential Trump-O’Rourke match-up would look like. At one point he led the crowd in chants of “Si se puede!” and accused Trump “of spreading lies.”
Speculation is swirling on Capitol Hill that Trump may try to use his executive powers to divert money earmarked for natural disaster recovery in California and Puerto Rico to pay for border wall construction.
He slammed Democrats for proposing a cap on ICE detention beds, claiming it would result in thousands of undocumented immigrants, including rapists and murderers, being released into cities across the country.
ICE’s average daily population of detainees for fiscal year 2019, starting Oct. 1, 2018, has been 45,890 immigrants, and 2,151 members of family units, for a total of 48,747 in custody, the agency said Monday.
He also belittled O’Rourke for leading a march in El Paso in protest of his rally. He said that in addition to the 10,000 people in the building, there were tens of thousands more outside watching on screens. Fire department officials said the building was at capacity with 6,500 people with perhaps a few thousand outside.
“A young man who has very little going for himself, except a great first name, he challenged us. So we have 35,000 people tonight and he has 100 or 200 people. Not too good. I would say that may be the end of his presidential bid,” Trump said.
Through chants of “Beto! Beto!” O’Rourke took on Trump directly several times, condemning his administration’s family separation policy, past statements about illegal immigrants, and threats to declare a national emergency in order to secure wall funding.
“We stand for the Constitution of the United States of America and against emergency national security declarations that would allow the president to submerge an equal branch of government (and) build a wall when we do not need it,” O’Rourke said.
He called El Paso “one of the safest cities in the United States of America…safe not because of walls, but in spite of walls.”
O’Rourke, whose strong but unsuccessful campaign against Sen. Ted Cruz electrified Democrats and obliterated fundraising records, has yet to disclose any concrete plans for 2020.
He told Oprah Winfrey in an interview set to air on the OWN network on Saturday that he has “been thinking about running for president” and would reach a decision by the end of the month.
“We are making a stand for the truth against lies, hate, ignorance and intolerance. We are going to show the country who we are,” O’Rourke said. “The president describes Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, we have the chance to tell him and the country immigrants commit crimes, including violent crimes, at a lower rate than do Americans who are born in this country.”
He ended his rally by telling the crowd, “We’ll see you out there.”
O’Rourke would face a growing list of Democratic presidential hopefuls, including fellow Texan Julian Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and Obama cabinet secretary. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren jumped into the race this weekend, joining Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, among others.
Trump also seized the moment to criticize El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, a Republican, for refuting his claim in his State of the Union address on Feb. 5 that El Paso’s crime rate dropped precipitously, making it one of the safest cities in America, after border walls were built in El Paso in 2008 and 2009.
Margo said the city was safe before the wall construction.
“I spoke to people who have been here a long time and they said when that wall went up it’s a whole different ball game,” he said. “I don’t care if a mayor is a Democrat or a Republican, they’re full of crap when they say it didn’t make a difference. Crime went way, way down.”
He compared the murder rate in Ciudad Juarez, directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso. He said Juarez had 1,200 murders last year, while 23 people were killed in El Paso. “Walls save lives. Walls save tremendous numbers of lives,” he said.
He said the recent 35-day partial government shutdown was necessary. “If we didn’t do that shutdown, we wouldn’t have been able to show the world what’s happening with the border. That’s a very important thing we did,” he said.
He circled back to claims he made in the State of the Union, stating that one in three immigrant women are sexually assaulted on their journeys from Central America to the U.S., and that sex traffickers “exploit our porous border” to sell young women into sexual slavery.
“Do you think they come in through the ports of entry? They drive out where there’s no wall and they make a left,” he said in his 75-minute speech.
Trump announced his bid for presidency in a June 2015 speech in which he said Mexico was sending rapists to the United States. He turned to that playbook again Monday.
“Mexico had the highest number of killings that they have ever had. Almost 40,000 people were killed in Mexico. Mexico’s not very far away and we’re going to take care of our people,” Trump said, without giving a time period for his claim.
There were 28,216 documented homicides in Mexico in 2018, a new record, and a 15 percent increase from 2017, the Mexican government announced last month.