AFP/El Paso, United States
President Donald Trump takes his politically explosive push for walling off the Mexican border to the frontier city of El Paso on Monday, four days before a deadline for Congress to meet his demands.
The president's campaign-style rally in El Paso will give Trump the kind of populist platform he loves.
According to Trump, illegal immigrants pose a national security risk to the United States and can only be stopped by dramatic extensions of current barriers.
It's an argument he backs up with lurid warnings about rapists and people traffickers extending far into the American heartland -- a message that critics describe as blatantly xenophobic and based on heavily manipulated data.
Trump chose El Paso as a historic crossing point where, he says, walls have eradicated an out-of-control influx of criminals from Mexico and made the city a model for what could happen elsewhere on the border.
But there'll be a counter-message a short distance from where Trump speaks when rising Democratic star Beto O'Rourke -- a possible challenger to Trump in 2020 -- holds his own rally.
A former congressman who excited grassroots Democrats last November with an against-the-odds near upset of Republican Senator Ted Cruz, O'Rourke is from El Paso.
And his message will provide a stark contrast to that of the president.
‘While some try to stoke fear and paranoia, to spread lies and a false narrative about the US-Mexico border and to demand a 2,000 mile wall along it at a time of record safety and security, El Paso will come together for a march and celebration that highlights the truth,’ O'Rourke's office said.
- Congress divided -
Trump has been leading chants of ‘build the wall’ at rallies since his 2016 election campaign. But he has failed to persuade Congress to fund construction and the risk of being forced into a humiliating climbdown has put him in a tight corner.
In December, Trump retaliated by refusing to fund swaths of the government, leading to a five week shutdown of some 800,000 federal jobs. Now, Congress has until Friday to come up with wall money or Trump says he could impose another shutdown.
Negotiations are on a knife-edge.
The president is demanding $5.7 billion for the project.
Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, and Trump's Republicans, who control the Senate, reported a setback over the weekend, with both sides haggling over the amount of potential money and what exactly it would be spent on.
Trump could either hit back with a new shutdown or declare a national emergency, giving himself power to take the money from the military, although this would likely provoke lawsuits and even more political recriminations.
‘He's going to do whatever he legally can to secure the border,’ acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on NBC on Sunday.
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