President Trump snapped into campaign mode Monday, using a Texas rally to slam political rivals as socialists and say he’ll do whatever it takes to deliver what he promised voters in 2016 — a “big, beautiful” wall on the southern border.
Rallying in the border city of El Paso, the president said he is fulfilling his pledge to restore American greatness despite opposition from newly empowered Democrats.
“Democrats have to stop being so angry. They’ve got to start being partners,” Mr. Trump said, continuing his new, come-together mantra under large banners that read, “Finish the Wall.”
Mr. Trump slammed pessimism around his efforts to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, cheered his trade talks with China and said Virginia would turn into a red state amid a multi-pronged scandals over blackface and sexual assaults that have engulfed Democrats.
Mr. Trump also predicted he’d win reelection in 2020, saying El Paso native Beto O’Rourke — a potential contender in an expanding Democratic field— had little going for him except his interesting first name.
He road-tested applause lines Monday, highlighting blue-state bills that on late-term abortion that have enraged his conservative base, and a liberal Green New Deal that would “take away your car.”
Mr. Trump and GOP allies are betting that voters will be turned off by liberal proposals that call for federal mandates to fight climate change or a single-payer, government-run health care system funded for by higher taxes on the wealthy. They say it all amounts to socialism.
“America will never be a socialist country,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re born free, we will live free and we will die free.”
It was the first of Mr. Trump’s trademark rallies since a mid-term election that empowered Democrats and a government shutdown for which the president shouldered much of the blame.
He tried to reset opinion in his favor late Monday by castigating Democrats who’ve lowballed his request for $5.7 billion in wall funding and sought to limit deportations by cutting funding for detention space at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The demand threatened to derail talks, raising the specter of another shutdown as of Saturday, yet the Senate’s top spending negotiator, Richard Shelby of Alabama, said Monday night that Republicans and Democrats have reached an agreement in principle that resolves the spat.
The news broke moments before Mr. Trump took the stage, though he said he didn’t know what to make of it.
“We’re building the wall anyway,” Mr. Trump said, reiterating his talking points against Democratic demands and saying construction was in progress.
He repeated his warnings about drugs and human traffickers coming over the border, and argued Democratic attempts to bolster security at ports of entry won’t help.
As a candidate, Mr. Trump said Mexico would pay for the barrier, though he’s now demanding a downpayment on the signature barrier from American taxpayers.
Democrats balked in December, but Mr. Trump dug in, too, leading to the longest government shutdown in history. Lawmakers agreed in late January to reopen the government and negotiate on border security issues, including the wall, before funding lapsed again on Feb. 15.
The Trump campaign set the table for Mr. Trump’s visit Monday by releasing a video of people — described as El Paso residents — extolling the concept of border walls, saying the construction of fencing suddenly slashed crime. Some of them are decked out in pro-Trump garb.
Yet the city’s Republican mayor, Dee Margo, recently told CNN that Mr. Trump must have been given “misinformation,” since the crime data does not fit the president’s narrative.
A fact check by the El Paso Times found that the crime rate was decreasing in the city before the border fence came along 2008-2009, as crime rates fell nationwide from high levels in the 1990s.
As Mr. Trump spoke, Mr. O’Rourke — who narrowly lost to Sen. Ted Cruz in November — protested the administration’s policies in a rival, one-mile march that passed the convention center.
Mr. Trump said the Democrat’s crowd wasn’t impressive, so he doesn’t expect much of a fight, considering the thousands who filled his arena.
“Is there any place that’s more fun to be than a Trump rally?” he said.
• David Sherfinski contributed to this report.