President Donald Trump takes his politically explosive push for walling off the Mexican border to the frontier city of El Paso here on Monday, four days before a deadline for Congress to meet his demands. The president’s campaign-style rally in El Paso will give Trump the kind of populist platform he loves. 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 blatantly 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.
“While some try to stoke fear and paranoia, to spread lies and a false narrative about the US-Mexico border and to demand a 2,000 mile wall along it at a time of record safety and security, El Paso will come together for a march and celebration that highlights the truth,” O’Rourke’s office said.
Trump’s trip comes as Congress is trying to strike a border security deal and avoid another government shutdown. The president has insisted that Congress fund some sort of border wall, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a proposal that includes Trump’s wall won’t pass the House. Trump has been toying with declaring a national emergency and shifting funds to build the wall.
His El Paso trip is designed to drum up public support for the wall, particularly with his steadfast, conservative base. Republicans hope Trump strikes the right tone Monday and takes steps to put the immigration issue to bed.