, EL PASO, Feb 12 – President Donald Trump takes his politically explosive push for walling off the Mexican border to the frontier city of El Paso on Monday, four days before a deadline for Congress to meet his demands.
Trump’s campaign-style rally in El Paso will give the president the kind of populist platform he will seek to build on ahead of his 2020 reelection bid.
“Will be heading to El Paso very soon. Big speech on Border Security and much else tonight. Tremendous crowd! See you later!” he tweeted.
According to Trump, illegal immigrants pose a national security risk to the United States and can only be stopped by dramatic extensions of current barriers.
It’s an argument he backs up with lurid warnings about rapists and people traffickers extending far into the American heartland — a message that critics describe as xenophobic and based on heavily manipulated data.
Trump chose El Paso as a historic crossing point where, he says, walls have eradicated an out-of-control influx of criminals from Mexico and made the city a model for what could happen elsewhere on the border.
But there’ll be a counter-message a short distance from where Trump speaks when rising Democratic star Beto O’Rourke — a possible challenger to Trump in 2020 — holds his own rally.
A former congressman who excited grassroots Democrats last November with an against-the-odds near upset of Republican Senator Ted Cruz, O’Rourke is from El Paso.
And his message will provide a stark contrast to that of the president.
“Tonight, we will meet lies and hate with the truth and a positive, inclusive, ambitious vision for the future from the US-Mexico border,” he tweeted.
Trump dismissed O’Rourke’s impact, saying in the White House that a “tiny” crowd would attend the Democrat’s event, while as many as 75,000 people had registered for his, but the facility could only hold 8,000.
– Congress divided –
Trump has been leading chants of “build the wall” at rallies since his 2016 election campaign and that is sure to continue up to 2020.
“Tonight, the President will join the millions of Americans who understand that a southern border wall is essential to border security,” election campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement along with a video showing what it said were El Paso residents speaking of the need for walls.
“El Paso’s example shows that only with a physical barrier can we stop the flow of illegal immigration, drugs, and crime and secure our southern border,” Parscale said.
On the ground in El Paso, however, Mayor Dee Margo denied the city’s law and order situation was turned around by building the wall.
“Not factually correct,” Margo told AFP. “We were safe before and safe after.”
“The fence has helped with some criminal activities but the primary reason we are as safe as we are is because of our police force and our public safety people.”
Trump has failed to persuade Congress to fund his wall project, with Democrats accusing the president of using the whole issue to boost his political base, rather than fix the complex border situation.
Facing the possibility of a humiliating retreat, Trump has fought back.
In December, he pushed back at Congress by refusing to fund swaths of the government, leading to a five week shutdown of some 800,000 federal jobs. Now, Congress has until Friday to come up with the wall money or Trump says he could impose another shutdown.
Negotiations are on a knife-edge.
The president is demanding $5.7 billion for the project.
Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, and Trump’s Republicans, who control the Senate, reported a setback over the weekend, with both sides haggling over the amount of potential money and what exactly it would be spent on.
Trump could either impose a new shutdown or declare a national emergency, giving himself power to take the money from the military, although this would likely provoke lawsuits and even more political recriminations.
“He’s going to do whatever he legally can to secure the border,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on NBC on Sunday.