US President Donald Trump has come out swinging against a man many believe could be his opponent for the White House in 2020.
Mr Trump used his Finish the Wall rally in El Paso on Monday night to fire up against Beto O’Rourke, a former Democratic congressman, who held his own rally across the street from the US president’s event.
Mr O’Rourke, who was narrowly beaten by Republican Ted Cruz in their Senate race last year, has strong support from Democrats to run.
Mr Trump, speaking to about 8000 people at the rally, mocked Mr O’Rourke, 46, as a “young man” who has “very little going for himself, except he’s got a great first name.”
Thousands attended Mr O’Rourke’s event, but Mr Trump estimated the crowd at 200 or 300 people. “That may be the end of his presidential bid,” he said.
Mr O’Rourke has said he’ll make a decision on a 2020 bid by the end of the month.
Standing in a packed stadium under a giant American flag and banners saying “FINISH THE WALL,” Mr Trump insisted that large portions of the project are already under construction and vowed to fulfil his 2016 campaign promise regardless of what happens in Congress.
“Walls work,” said Mr Trump, whose rally was repeatedly interrupted by protesters. “Walls save lives.”
Mr 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 from the arena where Mr 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,” Mr O’Rourke said. “Safe not because of walls but despite walls.”
There was a brief scuffle on a media riser away from the stage at Trump’s rally, when a man began shoving members of the news media and was restrained. There were no apparent injuries.
The rallies began moments after negotiators on Capitol Hill announced that politicians had reached an agreement in principle to fund the government ahead of a midnight Friday deadline to avoid another shutdown.
Republicans tentatively agreed to far less money for Mr Trump’s border wall than the White House’s $US5.7 billion wish list, settling for a figure of nearly $US1.4 billion, according to congressional aides.
The funding measure is through the fiscal year, which ends September 30.
Three people familiar with Congress’ tentative border security deal have told The Associated Press that the accord would provide $US1.375 billion to build 90 kilometres of new border barriers — well below the $US5.7 billion that Trump demanded to build over 320 kilometres of wall along the Mexican boundary. The money will be for vertical steel slats called bollards, not a solid wall.