EL PASO, Texas – Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman considering a White House run, and President Donald Trump traded political blows on Monday in rival rallies in El Paso, Texas, over the Republican’s fight for a border wall.
O’Rourke, who narrowly lost a 2018 bid for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, 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.
“Here is one of the safest cities in the United States of America, safe not because of walls but in spite of walls,” O’Rourke told a crowd of several thousand supporters, many waving “Beto 2020” signs and wearing “Immigrants Make America Great” baseball caps.
Two hundred yards away in El Paso County Coliseum, Trump told his supporters that O’Rourke had “little going for himself.”
“We are all challenged by a young man who lost an election to (Republican Senator) Ted Cruz,” said Trump, surrounded by banners reading “Finish the Wall.”
Trump was in El Paso to argue for a wall he says can protect Americans from violent criminals, drugs and a “tremendous onslaught” of migrant caravans.
The rally was his first direct clash with a potential 2020 rival, albeit on separate stages.
As Trump and O’Rourke spoke in Texas, U.S. congressional negotiators in Washington said they had reached a tentative deal on border security funding to avert another partial government shutdown due to start on Saturday.
An aide said it did not include the $5.7 billion Trump has demanded for his wall, however.
EL PASO: “LOW ON CRIME”
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In his State of the Union speech last week, Trump said the border fence separating El Paso from Mexico reduced the city’s high crime rate.
El Paso’s Republican mayor, Dee Margo, said the city had been safe for years before the wall was built.
“We were, I think, the No. 2 or No. 3 safest city before the fence went up and we progressed into No. 1,” he told Fox News. “We were significantly low on crime to begin with and always have been.”
O’Rourke told Oprah Winfrey last week he would make a final decision about running for president by the end of the month.
He declined to discuss a potential run on Monday. “I’m following the community’s lead tonight, no less, no more,” he said on a conference call with reporters. (Reporting by Tim Reid in El Paso, additional reporting by Steve Holland and Tim Ahmann in Washington; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Bill Tarrant and Sonya Hepinstall)