In Texas, Trump backs wall while O'Rourke rallies opponents

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — President Donald Trump charged ahead with his pledge to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, skimming over the details of lawmakers' tentative deal that would give him far less than he's been demanding and declaring he's "setting the stage" to deliver on his signature campaign promise.

In the first dueling rallies of the 2020 campaign season, Trump's "Finish the Wall" rally in El Paso went head-to-head Monday night against counterprogramming by Beto O'Rourke, a former Democratic congressman and potential Trump rival in 2020, who argued that walls cause more problems than they solve.

The rallies across the street from each other served as a preview of the heated yearslong fight over the direction of the country. And they made clear that Trump's long-promised border wall is sure to play an outsized role in the presidential race, as both sides use it to try to rally their supporters and highlight their contrasting approaches.

Standing in a packed stadium under a giant American flag and banners saying "FINISH THE WALL," Trump insisted that large portions of the project are already under construction and vowed to fulfill his 2016 campaign promise regardless of what happens in Congress.

"Walls work," said Trump, whose rally was repeatedly interrupted by protesters. "Walls save lives."

O'Rourke, meanwhile, held a countermarch with dozens of local civic, human rights and Hispanic groups in his hometown, followed by a protest rally attended by thousands on a baseball field within shouting distance from the arena where Trump spoke.

"With the eyes of the country upon us, all of us together are going to make our stand here in one of the safest cities in America," O'Rourke said. "Safe not because of walls but in spite of walls."

More than a half-hour in his rally, Trump had scarcely mentioned immigration, offering just a passing suggestion that those chanting "Build the Wall" switch to "Finish the Wall." Instead, he mocked O'Rourke, insisting the Texan has "very little going for himself except he's got a great first name" and deriding his crowd size, even though both men drew thousands.

"That may be the end of his presidential bid," Trump quipped, adding: "You're supposed to win in order to run."

There was a brief scuffle on a media riser away from the stage at Trump's rally, when a man began shoving members of the news media and was restrained. There were no apparent injuries.

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A man is restrained after he began shoving members of the media during a rally for President Donald Trump at the El Paso County Coliseum, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)


The rallies began moments after negotiators on Capitol Hill announced that lawmakers had reached an agreement in principle to fund the government ahead of a midnight Friday deadline to avoid another shutdown.

Republicans tentatively agreed to far less money for Trump's border wall than the White House's $5.7 billion wish list, settling for a figure of nearly $1.4 billion, according to congressional aides. The funding measure is through the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Three people familiar with Congress' tentative border security deal have told The Associated Press that the accord would provide $1.375 billion to build 55 miles (90 kilometers) of new border barriers — well below the $5.7 billion that Trump demanded to build over 200 miles (320 kilometers) of wall along the Mexican boundary. The money will be for vertical steel slats called bollards, not a solid wall.

The talks had cratered over the weekend because of Democratic demands to limit immigrant detentions by federal authorities, but lawmakers apparently broke through that impasse Monday evening. Now they will need the support of Trump, who must sign the legislation.

But Trump appeared oblivious to the deal, saying that he'd been informed by aides that negotiators had made some progress but that he had declined to be fully briefed because he wanted to go on stage.

"I had a choice. I could've stayed out there and listened, or I could have come out to the people of El Paso, and Texas, I chose you," Trump said. "So we probably have some good news. But who knows?"

Trump, who has been threatening to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress, added, "Just so you know, we're building the wall anyway."

The countermarch began at a high school about a mile from the baseball field in the shadow of Trump's rally, its participants streaming past part of the border and the towering metal slats lining it. Marchers waved handmade signs reading "Fire the Liar," ''Hate Is Not What Makes America Great" and "Make Tacos, Not Walls." They chanted "No wall!" and "Beto! Beto! Beto!"

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People wait for former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke to arrive on stage at an outdoor rally across from where President Donald Trump was holding a rally in El Paso, Texas, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)


Many marchers, and those in the crowd at the ballpark, carried flags reading "Beto for President 2020" or black-and-white "Beto for Senate" yard signs from his closer-than-expected November race against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz that had been modified slightly to read "Beto for President." The Democrat said the event wasn't only about him — or Trump — but meant to tell the true story of life in El Paso.

"It is going to be the people of the border," O'Rourke told the crowd before beginning the march, "who will write the next chapter in the history of this great country. Ensuring that our laws and our language and our leaders match our values."

Trump has insisted that large portions of the border wall are already underway. But the work focuses almost entirely on replacing existing barriers. Work on the first extension — 14 miles (23 kilometers) in Texas' Rio Grande Valley — starts this month. The other 83 miles (134 kilometers) that his administration has awarded contracts for are replacement projects.

Trump has repeatedly pointed to El Paso to make his case that a border wall is necessary, claiming that barriers turned the city from one of the nation's most dangerous to one of its safest.

"You know where it made a difference is right here in El Paso," he said Monday, adding: "They're full of crap when they claim it hasn't made a big difference."

But that's not true.

El Paso had a murder rate of less than half the national average in 2005, a year before the most recent expansion of its border fence. That's despite being just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city plagued by drug violence. The FBI's Uniform Crime Report shows that El Paso's annual number of reported violent crimes dropped from nearly 5,000 in 1995 to around 2,700 in 2016. But that corresponded with similar declines in violent crime nationwide and included periods when the city's crime rates increased year over year, despite new fencing and walls.

The Trump campaign released a video showing El Paso residents saying the wall helped reduce crime. But many in the city have bristled at the prospect of becoming a border wall poster child.

Trump advisers have long insisted that, fulfilled or not, the wall is a winning issue for the president, who has already sought to rewrite the "Build the Wall" chants that were a staple of his 2016 campaign to "Finish the Wall."

An AP-NORC poll conducted during last month's shutdown found that more Americans oppose a wall than support it. But nearly 8 in 10 Republicans are in favor, with only about 1 in 10 opposed.

Democrats, meanwhile, are adamant that Trump's insistence on a wall helps them and point to their 2018 midterm election gains in the House as proof that voters want to block Trump's agenda.

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Zeke Miller and Kevin Freking in Washington and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.


 

AP FACT CHECK: Trump on the wall, and a ban on cows?

By CALVIN WOODWARD and HOPE YEN ,  Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Let Democrats have their way, President Donald Trump suggested, and the United States will become a country without border security, airplanes or cows.

Trump warned of a variety of dire consequences from the Democratic playbook as he rallied Monday night in the border city of El Paso, Texas, in a hall where banners proclaimed "Finish the Wall" even though he barely has a start on the one he promised.

Both at the White House and in El Paso, he presented the border wall as a work in progress, hailing the start of a "big, big portion" with much more coming soon. It was a hefty exaggeration from a president who has yet to see an extra mile of barrier completed since he took office.

With another government shutdown looming — a tentative agreement reached by lawmakers Monday could avert it — and illegal immigration still at the heart of the budget dispute, Trump is pulling out the stops to portray his proposed wall as an answer to crime and drugs. As he's done repeatedly, Trump also defied the record in claiming that the wall that Congress has refused to pay for is rapidly coming together anyway.

In the course of the evening, he also took a swipe at the Green New Deal, a sweeping plan put forward by a group of Democrats last week to transform the U.S. economy to combat climate change and create thousands of jobs in renewable energy. This is where gaseous cows come into it.

A look at his remarks:

TRUMP, on the effects of the Green New Deal: "You're not allowed to own cows anymore." He added that the plan would "shut down American energy" and "a little thing called air travel."

THE FACTS: The Democratic plan would do none of those things. Trump chose to ignore the actual provisions of the plan, which calls for a drastic drop in greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas but would not ban methane-emitting cows or air travel.

Instead, Trump took his cue from a fact sheet that was distributed by the office of Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York last week, then clumsily disavowed by her and replaced with a more accurate summary of the plan.

The first version described measures beyond those contained in the plan, such as: "Build out high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary." And it made the impolitic statement: "We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren't sure that we'll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast." Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, said that was meant as an ironic quip.

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TRUMP, on the effect of a border wall on crime in El Paso: "When that wall went up, it's a whole different ball game. ... I don't care whether a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat. They're full of crap when they say it hasn't made a big difference. I heard the same thing from the fake news. They said, 'Oh crime, it actually stayed the same.' It didn't stay the same. It went way down. ... Thanks to a powerful border wall in El Paso, Texas, it's one of America's safest cities now." — rally remarks.

THE FACT: Trump falsely suggests a dramatic drop in crime in El Paso due to a border wall. In fact, the city's murder rate was less than half the national average in 2005, the year before the start of its border fence. It's true that the FBI's Uniform Crime Report shows that El Paso's annual number of reported violent crimes dropped from nearly 5,000 in 1995 to around 2,700 in 2016. But that corresponded with similar declines in violent crime nationwide and included periods when the city's crime rates increased year over year, despite new fencing and walls.

Before the wall project started, El Paso had been rated one of the three safest major U.S. cities going back to 1997.

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TRUMP, on his proposed wall: "We've built a lot of it." — rally remarks.

TRUMP: "We've actually started a big, big portion of the wall today at a very important location, and it's going to go up pretty quickly over the next nine months. That whole area will be finished. It's fully funded ... and we're going to have a lot of wall being built over the next period of time." — White House remarks.

THE FACTS: There's less going on here than his words convey. Construction is getting started on merely 14 miles (23 kilometers) of extended barrier, approved by Congress about a year ago in an appropriation that also authorized money to renovate and strengthen some existing fencing. The extension will be in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. That's not a "big, big portion" of the grand project he promised in his campaign and countless times since — a wall that, combined with existing fencing and natural barriers, would seal the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilomete) border with Mexico.

The recent fight with Democrats in Congress has been over his demand for a $5.7 billion down payment on the wall. That money would pay for a little over 200 miles (320 kilometers) of new barrier. Democrats have refused to approve anything close to that for extended barrier construction.

Trump also promised in the campaign that he would make Mexico pay for the wall, which it refused to do.

He inherited over 650 miles (1,050 kilometers) of border barrier from previous administrations.

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TRUMP, on preparations for his rally: "We have a line that is very long already. I mean, you see what's going on. And I understand our competitor's got a line, too, but it's a tiny little line." — at the White House.

THE FACTS: That's not true. His comment came about four hours before his El Paso rally and a competing one nearby, led by Beto O'Rourke, a prospective Democratic presidential contender. The gathering for both events was small at the time. People were standing around in a dusty wind, not so much lined up.

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TRUMP, addressing El Paso rally: "He has 200 people, 300 people, not too good. ... That may be the end of his presidential bid."

THE FACTS: That's not true, either. O'Rourke's march and rally drew thousands. Police did not give an estimate, but his crowd filled up nearly all of a baseball field from the stage at the infield to the edge of outfield and was tightly packed.

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TRUMP: "Drugs pouring through the border kills tens of thousands of innocent Americans a year, including heroin, meth, cocaine, fentanyl, so many others — they come through the southern border. We have a drug problem over the last 6, 7, 10 years like we have never had before. We can have such a big cut in the numbers, the percentages, if we get the wall built." — rally remarks.

THE FACTS: His assertion that a wall would stop most drugs from "pouring" into the U.S. runs counter to his government's findings on how the illegal substances get in. Most of it is smuggled through official border crossings, not remote stretches of the border.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says "only a small percentage" of heroin seized by U.S. authorities comes across on territory between ports of entry. The same is true of drugs generally, with the exception of marijuana.

In a 2018 report, the agency said the most common trafficking technique by transnational criminal organizations is to hide drugs in passenger vehicles or tractor-trailers as they drive into the U.S. through entry ports, where they are stopped and subject to inspection. They also employ buses, cargo trains and tunnels, the report says, citing other smuggling methods that also would not be choked off by a border wall.

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TRUMP: "Illegal immigration hurts all Americans, including millions of legal immigrants, by driving down wages, draining public resources and claiming countless innocent lives." — rally remarks.

THE FACTS: These assertions are unsupported by research, which Trump appeared to acknowledge obliquely by making a crack about "phony stats."

The weight of research on wages suggests that immigrants have not suppressed them, although it's not cut and dried. What's clear is that macro forces that go beyond immigration are at work in the sluggishness of wage growth: the decline in unionization, an intensified push to maximize corporate profits, growing health insurance costs that supplant wages and the rise of a lower-wage global labor force that in an intertwined worldwide economy can hinder pay growth for Americans.

On public resources, the National Academy of Sciences concluded: "An immigrant and a native-born person with similar characteristics will likely have the same fiscal impact." The academy found that because state and local governments supply most of the money for public schools, immigrants often receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes. But education produces children who grow into adults who get jobs, buy cars, buy houses and pay taxes and thereby contribute to economic growth. And succeeding generations of immigrant families become net contributors to government budgets, according to the study.

On the loss of lives, plenty of research challenges the assumption that people in the country illegally drive up violent crime. In one such study, sociologists Michael Light and Ty Miller reviewed crime in every state and the District of Columbia from 1990 to 2014. They found that a rising number of immigrants in the country illegally corresponded with a drop, not a rise, in reported crime.

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TRUMP: "We're going to El Paso. ... We're going there to keep our country safe, and we don't want murderers and drug dealers and gang members, MS-13, and some of the worst people in the world coming into our country. ... We need a wall." — remarks at White House.

THE FACTS: Trump suggests that weak border enforcement is contributing to vicious crime committed by MS-13, a gang held responsible for murders in cities across the U.S. But sealing the border completely would not eliminate the gang. It was founded in the U.S. in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants and has sunk roots in the country. Some of its members are U.S. citizens and not subject to deportation or border enforcement.

The government has not said recently how many members it thinks are citizens and immigrants. In notable raids on MS-13 in 2015 and 2016, most of the people caught were found to be U.S. citizens.

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Associated Press writers Will Weissert in El Paso, Texas, Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Kevin Freking, Michael Balsamo and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

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