WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump held his first rally of the year Monday, using the backdrop of El Paso, Texas, to make a case for his controversial border wall and stepped up immigration enforcement.
Part 2020 messaging, part an effort to influence ongoing negotiations over government funding, Trump blasted Democrats and touted his own successes over the past two years. Prepare to hear these same themes a lot of over the next two.
Here are five key takeaways from Trump’s rally in El Paso.
Border security deal
Trump mostly avoided the night’s breaking news – that budget negotiators in Congress had reached a deal “in principle” to keep the government open past Friday, when current funding will expire.
“They said progress is being made,” Trump said, referring to aides who briefed him before he began speaking in El Paso, where signs hanging from the rafters read: “Finish the wall.”
“I don’t want to hear about it,” Trump said he told his aides, adding that he chose to address the crowd rather than learn about details of the deal.
“We probably have some good news,” he said. “But who knows.”
Trump gave no indication of whether he’d be willing to sign such a deal.
Trump’s rally remarks in El Paso, Texas, were frequently notable for what the president didn’t say. After weeks of threatening to declare a national emergency as a way of freeing up federal funding for his border wall, Trump never used the words “national emergency” in a room full of supporters.
“Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway,” Trump said.
The absence of a threat to go around Congress to find money for a wall unilaterally may have been an oversight, but it also just as easily may have been by design. White House aides have increasingly floated the idea in recent days of finding money for the wall in the existing federal budget without declaring a national emergency, which has faced resistance from some Senate Republicans.
Trump is unlikely to find as much money through that route, and the approach will almost certainly draw legal challenges whether he declares an emergency or not.
It’s 2018 all over again
Trump’s appearance in El Paso marked his first rally this year – technically his first campaign appearance of the 2020 presidential election cycle. But the vast majority of Trump’s remarks were a rehash of the themes – and even the phrases – he embraced during the midterm election.
The president’s focus on the MS-13 gang, his claim that Democrats are “for open borders,” his touting of the economy and low unemployment – all of those were central to his 2018 stump speech. So, too, were his praise for legislation allowing terminally-ill patients access to experimental drugs and the major opioids package Congress approved last year.
Through the midterms, Trump often mentioned the 2020 election and criticized individual Democrats lining up to challenge him. The president mentioned only one potential rival on Monday, Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who was holding a competing rally in El Paso.
But 2020 is around the corner
Though much of Trump’s rally remarks could have been ripped from the midterms, he did continue to sound some themes that are almost certain to be defining messages for the next election. Among those: Abortion and socialism. The president hit on both of those words in his State of the Union address last week, and White House aides were pleased at the response those lines received from conservatives.
“They’re becoming the party of socialism, late-term abortions, open borders and crime,” Trump claimed.
Democrats have, in fact, supported additional federal funding for border security, but they oppose the border wall Trump proposed during his 2016 campaign. Trump’s focus on “socialism” is based on more liberal Democratic presidential candidates who have called for a Medicare-for-all health care system or environmental proposals intended to lower carbon emissions.
Trump specifically criticized the “Green New Deal,” saying that it sounds “like a high school term paper that got a low mark.”
A presidential pooch?
In one of the more lighthearted moments of his remarks, Trump wondered what it would be like if there was a presidential pooch beside him at the White House.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, you should get a dog,'” He said. “Why? ‘It’s good politically.’ I said that’s not the relationship I have with my people.”
Trump said he wouldn’t mind getting a dog, like many other presidents before him, but he doesn’t have the time.
“How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn?” he asked, as the crowd erupted into laughter.
“I don’t know,” he concluded. “It feels a little phony to me.”
Trump is the first president in more than 120 years who doesn’t have a canine pal by his side at the White House, according to the Presidential Pet Museum website. The last dog-less commander-in-chief was William McKinley, who had a parrot, kittens and roosters – but no presidential pooch.