President Donald Trump charged ahead with his pledge to build a wall at the US-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 today against counter-programming 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 counter-march 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."
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 (local time) deadline to avoid another shutdown.
Republicans tentatively agreed to far less money for Trump's border wall than the White House's $US5.7 billion wish list, settling for a figure of nearly $US1.4 billion, according to congressional aides. The funding measure is through the fiscal year, which ends on September 30.
Three people familiar with Congress' tentative border security deal have told The Associated Press that the accord would provide $US1.375 billion to build 90 kilometres of new border barriers - well below the $US 5.7 billion that Trump demanded to build over 320 kilometres 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 on 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.