WASHINGTON — It's not every day that an ex-congressman who isn't even an announced presidential candidate (though he very well might be) gets under the skin of the president of the United States. But that's exactly what happened as President Trump campaigned for his border wall last night in El Paso.
Referring to the protest that former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, and other El Paso leaders had organized, Trump said: "A young man who's got very little going for himself, except he's got a great first name… He challenged us. So we have let's, say, 35,000 people tonight. And he has 200 people, 300 people. Not too good."
He continued, "In fact, what I'd do, what I would say is that may be the end of his presidential bid."
Later in the speech, Trump once again brought up the former congressman. "Well, how about Beto? Beto was defeated too, right? But he suffered a great defeat. Watch what the news does tomorrow, though, they won't mention the disparity [in crowd size], they won't mention the disparity tomorrow. They'll say "Beto O'Rourke" - that's his last name, right, O'Rourke? - "Beto O'Rourke had a wonderful rally, although about 15 people…"
We're news people, so we'll mention the crowd estimates, per NBC's and others' reporting: About 7,000 to 8,000 attended O'Rourke's protest, while 6,500 attended Trump's rally (that's the capacity per the Fire Department) and several thousands more Trump supporters assembled outside the arena.
So that's not 200 people. Or 300. Or 15.
As veteran political reporters, we think debating crowd size is silly. Sure, it measures intensity, but there's so much more that goes into political campaigns (like policy, stamina, fundamentals).
But we'll tell you who doesn't think crowd sizes are silly. The answer: Donald J. Trump.
After all, he told the New York Times he was impressed with Kamala Harris' campaign rollout, when she had an estimated 20,000 in Oakland. "I would say, the best opening so far would be Kamala Harris. ... A better crowd — better crowd, better enthusiasm," he told the New York Times.
And he was definitely paying attention — and trying to understate — the size of the protest that O'Rourke and other El Paso leaders assembled.
Bottom line: Trump sure did elevate O'Rourke - by 1) going to El Paso in the first place and 2) deliberately trying to understate his crowd.
Trump once again doesn't have his facts straight on El Paso's crime statistics
As for the substance of Trump's remarks in El Paso, he made the case - like he did in last week's State of the Union address - that the city's border fencing/barrier led to a significant reduction in crime.
"I have been watching when they have been trying to say, 'Oh, the wall didn't make up much [difference], well you take a look at what they did with the past crimes and how they made them from very serious to much less serious, you take a look at what the real system is. I spoke to people that have been there a long time. They said when the wall went up it's a whole different ballgame."
Here are the facts: In El Paso — a city with a population of about 700,000 — violent crime has been cut in half since the 1990s, and the most up-to-date crime rate there was fewer than 400 incidents per 100,000 people.
That's less than New York City's rate of nearly 600 violent crimes per 100,000 residents and Washington's rate of 1,200 violent crimes per 100,000 people.
The statistics also contradict Trump's claim about El Paso's border fencing: They show that violent crime was already on the downswing before the fencing was completed in 2009, and then it slightly increased after it was finished.
Congressional negotiators reach border deal
Right before President Trump took the stage in El Paso, the news broke that congressional negotiators reached a deal to avert a partial government shutdown over border spending. The details, per NBC's Alex Moe, Hallie Jackson, Frank Thorp and Kasie Hunt:
- $1.375 billion for a border barrier. This would include new fencing - like steel slats, and other "existing technologies" - but would NOT include a concrete wall and is NOT an increase of funding compared to FY2018.
- This money would fund about 55 new miles of barrier - double the amount of new miles provided in FY18 and nearly three times as much as would have been available under a short-term continuing resolution.
- There will be additional money allocated to DHS overall - a $1.7 billion increase compared to FY18, but that includes non-barrier border security priorities (ie., technology at ports of entry, customs officers, humanitarian aid).
- There will be NO cap on the number of beds for interior enforcement (something Democrats had asked for, but are now backing away from.)
- The deal would fund approximately 40,520 overall detention beds. This means the amount of money that will be available for remainder of this fiscal year will gradually decrease the number of beds in detention centers, currently at 49,057.
But conservatives aren't happy with the deal — at all
Given that conservative media types and Freedom Caucus members sunk the December border deal - the collapse of which eventually led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history - how are they receiving last night's agreement?
Here was Fox News' Sean Hannity last night during the president's speech: "By the way on this new so-called compromise, I am getting details, $1.3 billion? That's not a-- not even a wall, a barrier?... Any Republican that supports this garbage compromise, you will have to explain. Look at this crowd.
Here's House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., per NBC's Marianna Sotomayor: "This conference agreement is hardly a serious attempt to secure our border or stop the flow of illegal immigration."
And here's Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio: "While the President was giving a great speech in El Paso, Congress was putting together a bad deal on immigration."
The question we have: Given that Republicans don't control the House anymore, and given Mitch McConnell's narrow majority in the Senate, are conservative critics going to give Trump room to reluctantly sign this deal into law?
Because if not, aviation/airport workers sure learned how to end a government shutdown …
Rep. Omar apologizes for controversial tweets
NBC News: "Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar apologized Monday afternoon for controversial tweets about the Israel lobby in the United States after her comments were denounced by House Democratic leaders as 'anti-Semitic tropes.'"
To us, Omar's tweets show someone who hasn't spent time with Jewish Americans and those with other opinions than hers. However, her apology after being condemned by her leaders is definitely noteworthy. Does she end up learning anything from this incident?
Iowa Democrats make changes to caucus system
On Monday, Iowa Democrats announced that they are changing their caucus system — to allow people who can't be in attendance on Caucus Night to participate.
Among the changes:
- Democrats who can't participate in person on Caucus Night will have multiple other opportunities (on Jan. 29, Jan. 30, Jan. 31, Feb. 1 and Feb. 2) to caucus via their mobile device, and they get to rank their Top 5 choices.
- You need no excuse to participate early.
- If you participate early, you're prohibited from participating on Caucus Night.
- And these early caucus votes will account for 10 percent of the results.
The math, per NBC's Vaughn Hillyard: "If a congressional district has 250 state delegates, about 10 percent of those will be allocated by the results of the virtual caucus."
So it sure seems like there's an incentive for campaigns to get their people to show up on Caucus Night, since absentee caucus-goers will count for just 10 percent.
Klobuchar responds to staffing controversy last night on "Maddow"
MADDOW: "So there has been a flurry of stories, particularly in the "Huffington Post" and in "BuzzFeed", saying that you are an exceedingly tough boss, maybe too tough…"
KLOBUCHAR: "Well, I love my staff. And I wouldn't be up on that stage like I was yesterday without a great staff, without a great campaign that we have put together. And also, without a staff that helped me to pass all the bills and worked with me over the years… I know I can be too tough sometimes and I can push too hard, that's obvious. But a lot of it is because I have high expectations for myself, I have high expectations for the people that work with me. And, mostly, I'm going to take the high expectations and bring them out to the country because if we want to really get these things done, some of these things should happen."
Democrat Mark Kelly announces AZ-SEN bid
Mark Kelly, former astronaut and husband to former Rep. Gabby Giffords, released a video this morning announcing his 2020 AZ-SEN bid challenging appointed Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz.
On the 2020 trail, per NBC's Kyle Stewart
Howard Schultz participates in a CNN town hall in Houston… John Delaney hits New Hampshire… And Seth Moulton delivers a foreign-policy speech in DC.