Trump returns to campaign form with El Paso rally promoting border wall
President Trump returned to the campaign trail Monday with a boisterous rally in El Paso, Texas, a city that he claimed had benefited from the construction of a border barrier similar to the one he has long promoted.
Standing beneath a giant American flag and flanked by two banners that read “Finish the wall,” Trump proclaimed, “If we didn’t have walls” like the section built in El Paso in 2008, “you would have people pouring in.”
“You know where it made a big difference. Right here in El Paso,” Trump told a capacity crowd of 6,500 supporters at El Paso County Coliseum. (Thousands more listened to the speech outside the coliseum, Trump claimed.)
In a speech that was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, Trump argued that “walls save lives. Walls save tremendous numbers of lives,” and assured his crowd that the one he promised during the 2016 presidential campaign was underway.
“Today we started a big beautiful wall right smack on the Rio Grande,” Trump said, without providing details.
In a speech ostensibly meant to promote the border barrier, Trump took his time getting around to that topic. First, he spent approximately an hour attacking Democrats on a number of issues, including taxes, the Green New Deal and late-term abortion.
Trump’s central argument for the border wall, which he repeated during last week’s State of the Union address, was that the addition of a border wall in 2008 transformed El Paso from a place with “extremely high rates of violent crime” to “one of the safest cities in our country.”
In fact, El Paso, which has a population of 683,577, had one of the lowest violent crime rates for a city of its size before the border barrier was built. That rate edged up slightly after construction of the barrier was complete. Before Trump’s rally, several local officials, including the town’s Republican mayor, sought to correct the president’s assertions.
“It almost seems like the president had to say that we were once dangerous in order to further his narrative that immigrant communities are inherently bad, or that immigrant communities are inherently unsafe,” Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said at a Monday press conference in her hometown of El Paso.
A mile away from where Trump spoke Monday, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who lives in El Paso, delivered his own speech at a rally that organizers dubbed the “March for Truth.”
O’Rourke, who represented Texas’s 16th Congressional District for three terms but lost his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterm elections, has been one of Trump’s most strident critics on the subject of a border wall.
O’Rourke also celebrated the diversity of El Paso, noting that it was “the largest bi-national community in the Western Hemisphere,” and called his hometown “a city that’s been one of the safest” in the U.S. over the last 20 years,“long before a wall was built here in 2008.”
“Walls do not save lives,” O’Rourke said. “Walls end lives.”
“We stand for America and we stand against walls,” O’Rourke continued. “We know that there is no bargain in which we can sacrifice some of our humanity to gain a little more security. We know that we deserve and will lose both of them if we do. We stand for the best traditions and values of this country, for our fellow humanity and who we are when we are at our best. And that is El Paso, Texas.”
Trump took note of O’Rourke’s participation in the nearby rally.
“We were all challenged by a young man who lost an election to Ted Cruz,” Trump said of O’Rourke, adding, “A young man who’s got very little going for himself.”
By the president’s tally, his own rally dwarfed the one O’Rourke led, a fact that he said could “be the end” to O’Rourke’s presidential ambitions. Trump said attendance at the “March for Truth” rally was 200 or 300. El Paso police estimated there were “10,000 to 15,000” there.
Since he kicked off his 2016 presidential campaign in Manhattan on June 16, 2015, Trump has been fixated on the idea that immigrants crossing U.S. border with Mexico represent a criminal threat.
“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” Trump said of immigrants he claimed were sent by Mexico. “And some, I assume, are good people.”
While his stance on a border wall resonated nationally, it proved somewhat less effective along the actual border. Trump won the state by 9 percentage points in the 2016 election but ended up losing El Paso County by 40 points.
Two years into his first term as president, Trump hasn’t backed off the assertion that immigrants crossing the southern border bring crime with them, even though studies have found that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native born U.S. citizens.
In the run-up to the the 2018 midterm elections, the president pushed hard on what he saw as the need for a border wall, but ended up losing the House of Representatives to Democrats. While the GOP picked up three seats in the U.S. Senate, O’Rourke lost to Sen. Ted Cruz by just 220,000 votes, the smallest margin of victory for a Republican Senate candidate in 40 years.
Trump’s insistence on congressional funding for the construction of a border wall led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. As yet, however, no new miles of wall have been built, which could ensure that the issue will once again be a focus of the upcoming presidential race.
Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, called Monday’s event the “first rally of the campaign cycle.”
—Holly Bailey contributed to this article.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional negotiators reached agreement Monday night to prevent a government shutdown and finance construction of new barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, overcoming a late-stage hang-up over immigration enforcement issues that had threatened to scuttle the talks.
Republicans were desperate to avoid another bruising shutdown. They tentatively agreed to far less money for President Donald 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.
The agreement means 55 miles of new fencing — constructed through existing designs such as metal slats instead of a concrete wall — but far less than the 215 miles the White House demanded in December. The fencing would be built in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
„With the government being shut down, the specter of another shutdown this close, what brought us back together I thought tonight was we didn’t want that to happen” again, said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
Details won’t be officially released until Tuesday, but the pact came in time to alleviate any threat of a second partial government shutdown this weekend. Aides revealed the details under condition of anonymity because the agreement is tentative.
„Our staffs are just working out the details,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.
The pact also includes increases for new technologies such as advanced screening at border entry point, humanitarian aid sought by Democrats, and additional customs officers.
This weekend, Shelby pulled the plug on the talks over Democratic demands to limit immigrant detentions by federal authorities, frustrating some of his fellow negotiators, but Democrats yielded ground on that issue in a fresh round of talks on Monday.
Asked if Trump would back the deal, Shelby said: „We believe from our dealings with them and the latitude they’ve given us, they will support it. We certainly hope so.”
Trump traveled to El Paso, Texas, for a campaign-style rally Monday night focused on immigration and border issues. He has been adamant that Congress approve money for a wall along the Mexican border, though he no longer repeats his 2016 mantra that Mexico will pay for it, and he took to the stage as lawmakers back in Washington were announcing their breakthrough.
„They said that progress is being made with this committee,” Trump told his audience, referring to the congressional bargainers. „Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway.”
The agreement got bad reviews from some of Trump’s conservative allies.
„While the President was giving a great speech in El Paso, Congress was putting together a bad deal on immigration,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, wrote on Twitter.
Democrats carried more leverage into the talks after besting Trump on the 35-day shutdown but showed flexibility in hopes on winning Trump’s signature. After yielding on border barriers, Democrats focused on reducing funding for detention beds to curb what they see as unnecessarily harsh enforcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
The agreement yielded curbed funding, overall, for ICE detention beds, which Democrats promised would mean the agency would hold fewer detainees than the roughly 49,000 detainees held on Feb. 10, the most recent date for which figures were available. Democrats claimed the number of beds would be ratcheted down to 40,520.
But a proposal to cap at 16,500 the number of detainees caught in areas away from the border — a limit Democrats say was aimed at preventing overreach by the agency — ran into its own Republican wall.
Democrats dropped the demand in the Monday round of talks, and the mood in the Capitol improved markedly.
Trump met Monday afternoon with top advisers in the Oval Office to discuss the negotiations. He softened his rhetoric on the wall but ratcheted it up when alluding to the detention beds issue.
„We can call it anything. We’ll call it barriers, we’ll call it whatever they want,” Trump said. „But now it turns out not only don’t they want to give us money for a wall, they don’t want to give us the space to detain murderers, criminals, drug dealers, human smugglers.”
The recent shutdown left more than 800,000 government workers without paychecks, forced postponement of the State of the Union address and hurt Trump’s poll numbers. As support in his own party began to splinter, Trump surrendered after the shutdown hit 35 days, agreeing to the current temporary reopening without getting money for the wall.
The president’s supporters have suggested that Trump could use executive powers to divert money from the federal budget for wall construction, though he could face challenges in Congress or the courts.
The negotiations hit a rough patch Sunday amid a dispute over curbing ICE, the federal agency that Republicans see as an emblem of tough immigration policies and Democrats accuse of often going too far.
According to ICE figures, 66 percent of the nearly 159,000 immigrants it reported detaining last year were previously convicted of crimes. Reflecting the two administration’s differing priorities, in 2016 under President Barack Obama, around 110,000 immigrants were detained and 86 percent had criminal records.
Few convictions that immigrants detained last year had on their records were for violent crimes. The most common were for driving while intoxicated, drugs, previous immigration convictions and traffic offenses.
The border debate got most of the attention, but it’s just part of a major spending measure to fund a bevy of Cabinet departments. A collapse of the negotiations would have imperiled another upcoming round of budget talks that are required to prevent steep spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies.
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey and Lisa Mascaro in Washington and Jill Colvin in El Paso, Texas, contributed to this report.
Douala (AFP) – Four people died when gunmen raided a hospital and burnt it to the ground in western Cameroon where anglophone separatists have been fighting troops, witnesses and a local official said Monday.
The incident occurred in Kumba, a town which serves as the commercial hub for the anglophone region and which has been badly hit by the violence between separatists and Cameroon troops that began in October 2017.
„Attackers killed four people and burnt down the hospital,” said an administrative official in the Kumba region, confirming information from a witness.
It was not immediately clear whether the victims were shot or died in the fire, nor whether they were patients at the facility.
Another local source said it appeared separatists were behind the attack.
The incident occurred on National Youth Day, the anniversary of the 1961 referendum which saw Cameroon’s western English-speaking areas joined onto the francophone areas which had just won independence from France.
Kumba lies about 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of Buea, capital of the Southwest region which along with the Northwest region is home to an anglophone minority that accounts for about a fifth of the country’s population.
Both areas, which were once ruled by Britain, have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the French-speaking majority and where separatists are fighting for independence.
Since the start of February, at least four people have been killed in Buea, one of whom was decapitated, as separatists announced plans to disrupt the February 11 anniversary.
Over the past 16 months, there have been regular clashes between troops and groups of separatists who have attacked police stations, schools and staged mass kidnappings.
UN figures show around 437,000 people have been forced out of their homes by the ongoing conflict, with another 32,000 fleeing across the border to neighbouring Nigeria.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses crowds during a ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution on February 11, 2019
Tehran (AFP) – Iran’s president on Monday insisted „enemy” plots against the country would fail as vast crowds marked 40 years since the Islamic revolution at a time of heightened tensions with the United States.
„The presence of people today on the streets all over Islamic Iran… means that the enemy will never reach its evil objectives,” a defiant President Hassan Rouhani told those thronging Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square, decrying a „conspiracy” involving Washington.
Chador-clad women, militia members in camouflage fatigues and ordinary citizens marched through the capital in freezing rain to commemorate the day in February 1979 that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ended millennia of royal rule.
The routes leading up to the square were packed with people as loudspeakers blared revolutionary anthems and slogans.
Life-size replicas of Iranian-made cruise and ballistic missiles stood in a statement of defiance after the US last year reimposed sanctions following its withdrawal from a deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Rouhani lambasted calls from the United States and Europe for a fresh agreement to curb Iran’s missile programme.
„We have not, and will not, request permission from anyone for increasing our defensive power and for building all kinds of… missiles,” he told the crowd.
Speaking from a flower-festooned stage overlooking the square, the president warned that Iran was now far stronger than when it faced off against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in a devastating 1980-1988 war.
„Today the whole world should know that the Islamic Republic of Iran is considerably more powerful than the days of the war,” Rouhani said.
Seemingly reaching out to his political critics within the country, the president added: „The more we allow different ideas, beliefs and (political) factions the stronger our system will be.”
A pre-prepared resolution was read out ahead of his speech that proclaimed „unquestioning obedience to the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei” and called US President Donald Trump an „idiot”.
In a tweet written on the anniversary that he also sent out in Farsi, Trump said the revolution had been a complete failure.
„40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure,” he wrote.
„The long-suffering Iranian people deserve a much brighter future,” the American president added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Iran that this year could be the last time it celebrates the anniversary if it attacks his country.
„If this regime makes the awful mistake of trying to destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa, it will not succeed,” he said. „However, this would be the last anniversary of the revolution that they celebrate.”
The events Monday were the culmination of official celebrations called the „10 Day Dawn” that marks the period between February 1, 1979 and February 11 when Shiite cleric Khomeini retuned from exile and ousted the shah’s last government.
The state has played up this year’s anniversary as 40 is symbolic of maturity in the Islamic tradition and the age at which Prophet Mohammed received revelations from God.
But despite the official festivities today’s Islamic republic faces acute economic challenges as it struggles with a mix of domestic hardships and US sanctions.
– ‘Support the revolution’ –
State television offered blanket coverage of the commemorations, showing marches in cities ranging from Abadan in southwestern Iran to Mashhad in the northeast.
Banners held by marchers or hung along the streets bore slogans including „Death to America”, „Death to Israel”, „we will trample on America”, „forty yeas of challenge, forty years of US defeats”.
A number of Israeli and American flags were set on fire by the crowds.
An anchor on state television warned of hostile foreign media trying to downsize the participation of Iranians in the march but expressed confidence that „they would be confounded by the unprecedented level of attendance”.
Those who took to the streets were bullish despite the economic problems in the country, made worse by Washington’s punitive measures.
Former public servant Saaghi insisted that it remained paramount for Iranians to stick by the revolution.
„We are here to support the revolution,” the 57-year-old pensioner, who refused to give his first name, told AFP at the event in Tehran.
He compared the US sanctions and economic hardships to „riding a bicycle when someone puts a stick in the wheels” but pointed to advances in other fields as more than making up for them.
„On the revolution’s 40th anniversary we are at the top for scientific achievements like nanotechnology or accurate missiles,” he said.
Cleric Hossein Firouzi told AFP Iran’s revolution had achieved everything it set out to in terms of military power, political identity and scientific achievements.
„Iran has changed from a backwards nation to a world power,” said the 50-year-old.