By Paul Steinhauser, Frank Miles
Published February 11, 2019
A week after he told Oprah Winfrey that he’d decide on a White House run by the end of the month, Beto O’Rourke took on President Trump and his policies Monday evening amid dueling rallies along the U.S.-Mexico border in his hometown of El Paso.
The Democrat, who is considering a presidential run in 2020, said El Paso, Texas, is "one of the safest cities in America — safe not because of walls but in spite of walls."
He added, "Walls do not save lives, walls end lives," citing the danger to asylum seekers rejected by the U.S.
The former three-term congressman from Texas joined a one-mile march that ended with O’Rourke giving a speech critical of Trump’s push for billions in federal funds to extend a wall along with border with Mexico.
The former congressman said the Trump administration manufactured a border crisis that didn’t exist for the people who actually know the area: "We are making a stand for the truth."
O’Rourke spoke at Chalio Acosta Sports Center the same time the president spoke at a rally in support of the wall at the El Paso County Coliseum, which is just a block away.
“The country will be watching, and it falls on all of us to tell the true story about the border,” O’Rourke wrote Sunday on Twitter.
O’Rourke and his allies were hoping to display “the reality of the border – a vibrant, safe, binational community that proudly celebrates its culture, history, diversity and status as a city of immigrants.”
“We’re going to present a powerful, positive, message for the country about who we are on the U.S.-Mexico border,” O’Rourke said Monday in a video promoting the march.
On the other side of the debate, Trump's campaign put out a video highlighting the need for a wall and featuring El Paso residents.
“Tonight, the President will join the millions of Americans who understand that a southern border wall is essential to border security. El Paso's example shows that only with a physical barrier can we stop the flow of illegal immigration, drugs, and crime and secure our southern border," Brad Parscale, campaign manager, said in a statement.
The president’s event and the counter-protest with O’Rourke – which was organized by Border Network for Human Rights and Women's March El Paso – came as Washington barrels toward another possible government shutdown over border security disagreements.
A standoff between the president and Democrats in Congress over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for border wall construction led to an unprecedented 35-day partial federal government shutdown from just before Christmas until late last month. Both sides face a Friday deadline to reach an agreement or face another possible shutdown -- Trump also has threatened to declare a national emergency to address what he describes as a security crisis.
For his part, O’Rourke raised an eye-popping $80 million during his 2018 Senate campaign, when he came close to unseating Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Thanks to his better-than-expected performance against Cruz, his spirited message on the campaign trail, and his mastery of social media, there were immediate calls by some Democrats for O’Rourke to run for president.
Weeks later, two national groups sprang up to ‘draft’ Beto into running for the White House. So far, O'Rourke has not made a decision.
Another Texan who has already declared his candidacy for president is also criticizing Trump’s rally in El Paso.
"Tonight, President Donald Trump is going to El Paso, Texas to create a circus of fear and paranoia, like he always does, to tell lies about the border and about immigration," former San Antonio mayor and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said in a video released Monday. "Don't take the bait."