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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump walks up the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Md., Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. Trump is heading to El Paso, Texas, to try and turn the debate over a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border back to his political advantage as his signature pledge to American voters threatens to become a model of unfulfilled promises. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

EL PASO, Texas -- President Donald Trump charged ahead Monday with his pledge to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, skimming over the details of lawmakers' tentative deal that would give him far less than he's been demanding and declaring he's "setting the stage" to deliver on his signature campaign promise.

In the first dueling rallies of the 2020 campaign season, Trump's "Finish the Wall" rally in El Paso went head-to-head against Beto O'Rourke, a former Democratic congressman and potential Trump rival in 2020, who argued that walls cause more problems than they solve.

The rallies across the street from each other made clear that Trump's long-promised border wall is sure to play an outsized role in the presidential race, as both sides use it to try to rally their supporters and highlight their contrasting approaches.

Standing in a packed arena under a giant American flag and banners saying "FINISH THE WALL," Trump insisted that large portions of the project are already under construction and vowed to fulfill his 2016 campaign promise regardless of what happens in Congress.

"Walls work," Trump said. "Walls save lives."

O'Rourke, meanwhile, held a countermarch with dozens of local civic, human-rights and Hispanic groups in his hometown, followed by a protest rally attended by thousands on a baseball field within shouting distance of the arena where Trump spoke.

"With the eyes of the country upon us, all of us together are going to make our stand here in one of the safest cities in America," O'Rourke said. "Safe not because of walls but in spite of walls."

More than a half-hour into his rally, Trump had scarcely mentioned immigration, offering just a passing suggestion that those chanting "Build the Wall" switch to "Finish the Wall." Instead, he mocked O'Rourke, insisting the Texan has "very little going for himself except he's got a great first name" and mocking his crowd size, even though both men drew thousands.

"That may be the end of his presidential bid," Trump quipped, adding: "You're supposed to win in order to run."

The rallies began moments after negotiators on Capitol Hill announced that lawmakers had reached an agreement in principle to fund the government ahead of a midnight Friday deadline to avoid another shutdown.

Trump appeared oblivious to the deal, saying that he'd been informed by aides that negotiators had made some progress but that he had declined to be fully briefed so he could go on stage.

"I had a choice. I could've stayed out there and listened, or I could have come out to the people of El Paso, and Texas, I chose you," Trump said. "So we probably have some good news. But who knows?"

Information for this article was contributed by Zeke Miller, Kevin Freking and Elliot Spagat of The Associated Press.

A Section on 02/12/2019

Print Headline: Trump plugs for wall in El Paso

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