President Donald Trump kicked off the 2020 campaign season Monday in the border city of El Paso, Texas, just as negotiators on Capitol Hill appeared to have reached a deal to keep the government fully open past Friday’s deadline.
Trump largely demurred on weighing in on the deal’s emerging details, telling the raucous crowd he had skipped being briefed on it in favor of delivering his remarks to them. He spoke for about an hour and 15 minutes, previewing some of his campaign messaging against “socialism” and zeroing in on a specific potential 2020 contender: Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso.
Trump said congressional Democrats’ proposed Green New Deal “sounds like a high school term paper that got a low mark.”
Trump brushed off policy proposals from Democrats, saying the push from progressive lawmakers “all has to do with 2020 and the election”
“But I really don’t like their policies of taking away your car, taking away your airplane flights, of ‘let’s hop a train to California,’ or ‘you’re not allowed to own cows anymore!’ ” he added, referring to the resolution championed by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats.
“Democrats have got to stop being so angry and they’ve got to start being partners,” Trump also said, despite much of his rally criticism being aimed at his opposition party.
Trump called O’Rourke, who was headlining a counter-rally in El Paso at the same time as the presidential speech, “a young man who has got very little going for himself except he’s got a great first name.”
The President spent much of his rally reciting some of his favorite talking points, pointing to polls, listing his global and domestic accomplishments and castigating investigations into his campaign’s role in Russia’s 2016 election interference as misguided.
And after pointing the finger at 2016 rival Hillary Clinton – without evidence – as a source of Russia collusion, the crowd reprised the “lock her up” chant.
“That’s starting to make a lot more sense, but that’s where the collusion is,” Trump responded.
Trump also pressed his case for the border wall by using El Paso as an example of how it has lowered crime rates, though the facts do not support his claim.
During last week’s State of the Union, he similarly claimed “the border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime – one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”
But according to an analysis of FBI crimes data and city law enforcement data analyzed by the El Paso Times, violent crime in the city peaked in 1993. Border fence construction began in 2008 and was completed in 2009. But violent crime dropped long before the wall was built in El Paso, falling 34% between 1993 and 2006 in the city.
And according to the El Paso Times, from 2006 to 2011, violent crime in the city actually increased by 17%.
El Paso did, however, see a decline in violent crimes around the start of Operation Hold the Line, which stationed hundreds of Border Patrol agents alongside the border surrounding El Paso.
During the rally, the President also appeared to address comments on CNN by the Republican mayor of El Paso, Dee Margo, disputing Trump’s claim about El Paso’s safety record.
“And I don’t care whether a mayor’s a Republican or a Democrat. They’re full of crap, when they say it hasn’t made a big difference,” Trump said.
The President even made time to muse about owning a dog in the White House during his remarks, going on a tangent while talking about German shepherds working on the border to find drugs.
“I wouldn’t mind having one,” the notoriously pet-averse Trump said.
“How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn sort of not – I don’t know, I don’t feel good, feels a little phony to me,” Trump said.
He added that people have asked and told him it’s “good politically” to have a dog, but he rebuked the suggestion, saying, “That’s not the relationship I have with my people.”
CNN’s Betsy Klein, Phil Mattingly, Dana Bash, Manu Raju and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.