(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump faces off against potential Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke Monday in El Paso, Texas, as the two headline competing rallies on the border wall with a second possible government shutdown less than a week away.
Trump has depicted El Paso as a case study for the power of a wall to stop undocumented immigration and violent crime. Many locals challenge his claims. It’s O’Rourke’s hometown, and the charismatic Democrat plans to counter-program Trump with his own rally at the same time. Only a few hundred yards will separate the two men as they speak.
El Paso is “safe not because of walls, and not in spite of the fact that we are a city of immigrants,” O’Rourke wrote in a Medium post published Friday that also includes a 10-point plan on immigration policy. The city is “safe because we are a city of immigrants and because we treat each other with dignity and respect.”
The stakes for Trump are high. Building the border wall was a signature campaign promise, and unless he can substantially change the state of play, Trump faces a difficult choice: accepting a deal that rolls back elements of his immigration crackdown and provides only part of the wall funding he’s demanded; or plunging the federal government into another shutdown, likely to prove as politically harmful as the first.
The evening could also be a key test for O’Rourke, who electrified Democrats across the country by nearly defeating incumbent Senator Ted Cruz in deep red-Texas in November. O’Rourke has said he will decide whether to seek the Democratic presidential nomination by the end of the month.
The Monday rally is Trump’s first since the midterm elections, and comes as talks stalled between lawmakers on Capitol Hill to avert another government shutdown over funding for the president’s planned border wall.
Trump and his team have always felt the president is most effective in his rollicking, barely-scripted rallies, and Texas offers a largely sympathetic audience. It also provides the stage to highlight real-world examples of the human trafficking, drug smuggling, and violence that informs the president’s push for a wall.
Trump in a Monday morning tweet promised a “Big speech on Border Security and much else tonight. Tremendous crowd! See you later!”
“He will promise a wall and will repeat his lies about the dangers that immigrants pose,” O’Rourke said in his Friday post. “He will claim that this city of immigrants was dangerous before a border fence was built here in 2008.”
Trump has repeatedly claimed that crime rates dropped in El Paso after a barrier along the the border with Juarez was built a decade ago. But many locals — including El Paso’s Republican mayor — challenge Trump’s claim, pointing to crime rates that dropped before construction even began. FBI crime data shows the city’s violent crime rates fell to a low in 2006, two years before construction began on the new wall. Incidents of violent crime ticked up slightly during and after the installation.
The biggest question on Monday may be what effect, if any, the dueling campaign rallies has on congressional negotiators back in Washington -- and if Trump is interesting in keeping those talks alive at all. Over the weekend, Trump said he believed Democrats wanted a shutdown to distract from good economic news and controversies plaguing a number of Democratic elected officials in the state of Virginia.
Four senior lawmakers - Representative Nita Lowey and Senator Patrick Leahy, both Democrats, and Representative Kay Granger and Senator Richard Shelby, both Republicans -planned to meet Monday afternoon, as Trump flew to Texas, in a bid to get talks back on track.
Trump has repeatedly suggested he could declare a national emergency to draw on other government funds to begin construction of the wall. That approach has little public support, and has drawn criticism by both Democrats and Republicans.
Democrats are seeking a cap to force U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to detain criminals rather than undocumented immigrants with no criminal history. Republicans are resisting a limit on grounds that criminals shouldn’t count toward a cap.
Even if the lawmakers are able to solve that issue, it remains unclear if Trump will accept a deal that provides less than the $5.7 billion he’s demanded for the border wall.
“The Border Committee Democrats are behaving, all of a sudden, irrationally,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Not only are they unwilling to give dollars for the obviously needed Wall (they overrode recommendations of Border Patrol experts), but they don’t even want to take murderers into custody! What’s going on?”
White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told NBC News on Sunday that Trump would probably be willing to accept a compromise deal, while reiterating that he “absolutely can not” rule out the possibility of another shutdown.
Without a funding deal, nine federal departments and related agencies would shut down again on Feb. 15, just weeks after a record 35-day closure.
--With assistance from Erik Wasson.
To contact the reporters on this story: Justin Sink in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;Jennifer Epstein in El Paso at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at firstname.lastname@example.org, Joshua Gallu
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