President Donald Trump seized the chance to make the case for the construction of a border wall during a rally in El Paso that addressed topics far beyond immigration.
A big US flag along with three “finish the wall” banners lined the El Paso County Coliseum, making it clear immigration and border security were at the center of Trump’s speech. Mere days before another government shutdown deadline, the president sought to convince his supporters that he was planning to fulfil one of his signature campaign promises.
But saving the immigration portion of his rally for last, Trump resorted to themes familiar to many of his rallies, including North Korea, the Democrats and the Mueller investigation.
Trump touted his foreign policy strategy in Asia, confirming he plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, at the end of the month.
He made time to mock counter-demonstrators who had gathered at a nearby counter protest led by former congressman and potential presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. Trump derided the crowd size at the event, even though both men drew thousands.
According to local journalist Bob Moore, local officials estimated the attendance at Trump’s rally at close to 7,000 with another 6,000 watching on screens outside the venue. Approximately 7,000 people attended the counter protests.
Trump also railed against the New Green Deal, the plan recently introduced Democrats in the House of Representatives to tackle climate change. And he continued to call the investigation by special counsel Robert Muller into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign a witch hunt.
On immigration, Trump once again promised to build a border wall between Mexico and the United States. “Walls work,” the president said. “Walls save lives.”
Trump again claimed the border fence built in El Paso in 2008 was an important factor in reducing crime in the area. FBI crime statistics show otherwise. El Paso hit a record low in crime level in 2006, two years before the construction of the fence that separates it from Ciudad Juárez.
The president’s inaccurate statements didn’t stop there. Trump told the rally attendees that construction of the wall had begun in the border in the city of El Paso as of Monday morning, which is not true. Last fall construction began at the neighborhood of Chihuahuita in downtown El Paso but the project will only replace the old fence with a new taller fence.
Yet “the wall is being built and at a very fast pace,” Trump claimed.
Trump’s rally began moments after negotiators on Capitol Hill announced that lawmakers had reached an agreement in principle to fund the government ahead of a midnight Friday deadline to avoid another shutdown.
Republicans tentatively agreed to far less money for Trump’s border wall than the White House’s $5.7bn wish list, settling for a figure of nearly $1.4bn, according to congressional aides. The funding measure is through the fiscal year, which ends 30 September.
Three people familiar with Congress’s tentative border security deal told the Associated Press the accord would provide $1.375bn to build 55 miles (90 kilometers) of new border barriers — well below the $5.7bn that Trump demanded to build over 200 miles (320 kilometers) of wall along the Mexican boundary. The money will be for vertical steel slats called bollards, not a solid wall.
At the rally, Trump appeared oblivious to the deal, saying he had been informed by aides that negotiators had made some progress but that he had declined to be fully briefed because he wanted to go on stage.
“We’re going to build the wall anyways,” he said.
Trump supporters had lined up hours before the rally in hopes of hearing what the president had to say on immigration and the negotiations on the government shutdown.
“I’m hoping he gives a bit more details of what his plans are on immigration, whether it’s the wall or better and stronger immigration laws,” said Cody Perkins a local supporter of the president.
‘Safe not because of walls but in spite of walls’
At O’Rourke’s rally nearby, dozens of local civic, human rights and Hispanic groups in his home town attended a protest rally attended by thousands on a baseball field within shouting distance from the arena where Trump spoke.
“With the eyes of the country upon us, all of us together are going to make our stand here in one of the safest cities in America,” O’Rourke said. “Safe not because of walls but in spite of walls.”
Flanking the president on Monday were both Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Texas Governor Greg Abbot, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Texas attorney general Ken Paxton. Cornyn, Cruz, and Donald Trump Jr spoke to the crowd before the president’s speech.
Cornyn praised Trump for nominating a record number of conservative judges to the federal bench, and applauded the nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the supreme court.
He also expressed support for Trump’s immigration plans, criticizing both Democrats and the media. “We can have both a secure border and a strong economy” Cornyn said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report