President Trump kicked off his first rally of 2019 standing by the government shutdown, declaring border walls work and taking shots at potential 2020 rival Beto O’Rourke.
Trump wasted no time mocking O’Rourke, who held a dueling rally in El Paso, Texas, to oppose Trump’s wall, calling him a “young man” who has “very little going for himself except his has a great first name.”
“He suffered a great defeat,” Trump said of O’Rourke’s 2018 loss to Sen. Ted Cruz, while boasting that he won his first and only attempt at public office.
Trump claimed his rally crowd was “huge” compared to O’Rourke who has “200 people, 300 people – not too good.”
“That may be the end of his presidential bid,” Trump said.
Police estimated O’Rourke’s crowd size at several thousand.
While Trump was greeted with plenty of enthusiasm inside the 6,500-seat El Paso County Coliseum, he faced backlash from local leaders since his State of the Union claim that the border city used to have “extremely high rates of violent crime” and was one of the “most dangerous cities.”
Trump claimed El Paso became one of the “safest cities in our country” thanks to the 2008 construction of a border wall.
But FBI crime statistics show a very different trend. Violent crime spiked in El Paso in 1993, but dropped dramatically by 60 percent in 2006 – two years before the wall was constructed. Crime rates have stayed relatively flat since then.
“The wall has not saved lives. It has ended lives,” O’Rourke, a potential 2020 Democratic candidate, said earlier Monday.
O’Rourke staged a dueling “March for Truth” rally in El Paso to refute Trump’s border wall claims. Organizers said they expected 6,000 to 9,000 people.
O’Rourke argued new barriers have pushed migrants and asylum seekers into dangerous, remote terrain that has cost lives.
El Paso is one of the safest cities in the US “not because of walls, but in spite of walls,” O’Rourke said to cheers at his counter rally.
But Trump stood by his statements that walls work in El Paso and elsewhere.
“They are full of crap when they say it hasn’t made a big difference,” Trump said.
Trump kicked off his rally declaring: “Today we started a big beautiful wall right on the Rio Grande — right smack on the Rio Grande.”
Instead of “Build that Wall” banners inside the arena read “Finish The Wall.”
The 6 miles of wall along the Texas-Mexico border were authorized last year and would mark the first section of new border barrier in the Rio Grande.
The El Paso standoff comes as lawmakers emerged from closed-door talks Monday night declaring they’ve reached a deal in principle to avert another government shutdown before the Feb. 15 midnight deadline.
The deal would mean $1.375 billion for new, non-concrete border barriers, below the $5.7 billion Trump had initially demanded, according to a congressional source.
The breakthrough was a sign of progress after public disputes over funding for ICE detention beds.
Democrats wanted to cap the number of immigrants here illegally ICE can detain in order to prioritize arresting the most dangerous offenders, while Trump said lowering detention space would mean “cutting loose dangerous criminals into our country.”
“Let me state very clearly to those pushing this ridiculous and radical agenda: I will never sign a bill that forces the mass release of violent criminals into our country,” Trump said in El Paso.
Trump also stood by his historic 35-day government shutdown because it allowed him to highlight the need for border security.
“That was a very important thing we did,” Trump said.