A new potential White House hopeful took an aim at Trump's dream of building a wall on the US border with Mexico, accusing the Republican president of fear-mongering on Monday February 11th. According to Reuters, Trump fired back, describing the Democrat as a "young man who lost to Ted Cruz."
Beto O'Rourke, who almost made it to a US Senate seat in 2018, accused Trump of stoking "false fear" about immigrants and telling "lies" about his hometown El Paso, which Trump said was a dangerous place before it had a border fence.
"We stand for America and we stand against a wall," O'Rourke told a rally of several thousand supporters, many waving "Beto 2020" signs and wearing "Immigrants Make America Great" baseball caps. "Walls do not save lives, they end lives."
In duelling rallies that could preview the tenor of the 2020 election campaign, Trump stood two hundred yards away in El Paso County Coliseum, telling his supporters that O'Rourke had "little going for himself, although he's got a great first name."
"We are all challenged by a young man who lost an election to (Republican Senator) Ted Cruz," Trump said.
Referring to O'Rourke's rally that was smaller than his, Trump said it is a bad sign: "That may be the end of his presidential bid."
Trump claimed that 35,000 people attended his rally, with about 10,000 inside. The city's fire department allowed only the capacity 6,500 inside, the El Paso Times reported. Police estimated between 10,000 and 15,000 attended the O'Rourke march and rally, the newspaper said.
While the two men spoke, US congressional negotiators said they had reached a tentative deal to try to avert another partial government shutdown. Aides said it did not contain the $5.7 billion Trump wanted for his wall that triggered the shutdown last month.
Trump affirmed on Monday he would not drop the demand for a border wall that delights his followers, first made in his campaign in the 2016 election. Giant banners at his rally read "Finish The Wall."
"We're building the wall anyway. Maybe progress has been made - maybe not," Trump said, in what was the president's first direct clash with a potential 2020 rival, albeit on separate stages.
O'Rourke decried the Trump administration's separation of immigrant children from their parents at the border. He said Dreamers - undocumented people brought to the United States by their parents when they were children - should be given citizenship, and their parents a pathway to citizenship.
"With a president who describes Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, we have a chance to tell him and the country that immigrants commit crime at a lower rate than Americans who are born in this country," he said to shouts of "Beto, Beto."
Trump was pressing his case on immigration in the Democratic bastion of El Paso county, where the population is over 80% Hispanic.
"I will never sign a bill that forces the mass release of violent criminals into our country," Trump said, referring to a Democratic proposal in the Washington talks to lower the cap on detentions of criminal aliens by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Under Monday's tentative agreement, the cap would likely stay around the same as in previous years, a congressional aide said.
Despite O'Rourke's full-throated denunciation of the president, the two-time congressman has not yet announced his 2020 bid. O'Rourke told Oprah Winfrey last week he would make a final decision about running for president by the end of the month.