Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman considering a White House run, and President Donald Trump geared up for dueling rallies in El Paso, Texas, on Monday over the Republican’s push for a border wall.
O’Rourke, a rising Democratic star, blasted Trump for 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.
Ahead of the two rallies, which were set to start at 7 p.m. MST (9 p.m. EST), O’Rourke marched nearby with his wife, children and several thousand people, some carrying “Beto 2020” signs and wearing T-shirts saying “El Paso was safe long before a wall” and “Immigrants Make America Great” baseball caps.
“It’s going to be the people of the border who write the next chapter in the history of this great country,” O’Rourke told the crowd.
Trump is traveling to El Paso to argue for a wall he says can protect Americans from violent criminals, drugs and a “tremendous onslaught” of migrant caravans.
The El Paso rally is his first direct clash with a potential 2020 rival, albeit on separate stages in venues about 200 yards apart.
The rallies coincide with talks in Washington to reach a border security deal and avert another government shutdown.
One of the negotiators, Republican Senator Richard Shelby, told reporters late on Monday that an “agreement in principle” had been reached, but did not give any details and said staff members would work those out.
Trump spoke out against the Democrats’ demands in the talks before he left for Texas.
“We’re up against people who want to allow criminals into our society,” he said.
Baiting O’Rourke, Trump said there was a big line for his El Paso event.
“I understand our competitor has a line too but it’s a tiny little line,” he said.
EL PASO: “LOW ON CRIME”
In his State of the Union speech, 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.