President Trump is heading to El Paso on Wednesday, accepting an invitation from the city’s mayor that comes over the objections of several prominent local officials.
Republican Mayor Dee Margo on Monday said the invitation is part of what he feels is his “obligation” to meet with the president in the wake of a Saturday shooting that left 22 dead. But several city officials say the visit from Trump, whose rhetoric mirrors that of the white nationalist killer who targeted immigrants, is inappropriate, and Margo acknowledged that he is “already getting the emails and phone calls” from angry El Pasoans.
Adding to the frustration: The Trump campaign still owes El Paso nearly $600,000 from the president’s last visit to the city in February.
Two particularly angry El Pasoans are Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), the city’s representative in Washington, D.C., and the man she replaced in that role, Beto O’Rourke, who is now running for president. Both have said publicly that he is not welcome in the city.
“He is not welcome here. He should not come here while we are in mourning,” Escobar said Monday on MSNBC, going on to note that instances of hate crimes increased in cities where Trump held rallies. Trump spoke in front of 6,500 people inside the El Paso County Coliseum in February.
“He came into one of the safest communities in the nation, and as a result — or maybe not as a result, that’s probably not fair — months later a gunman came into our community, someone from outside of this community came into this beautiful, tranquil, loving place to do us harm,” Escobar added.
Rep. Veronica Escobar: Trump is "not welcome" in El Paso pic.twitter.com/TgKQ9CDjsV
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) August 5, 2019
Later on Monday, Escobar told the New Yorker she has been receiving death threats for opposing the president’s views on immigration, saying she is now forced to bring law enforcement to her town hall meetings.
O’Rourke, who flew to El Paso after the shooting and has since issued several forceful condemnations of the president’s rhetoric, wrote on Monday that Trump “has no place here” and that El Paso does “not need more division.”
This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday's tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso. We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 5, 2019
Several other city officials have warned that a visit from the president is not what the city needs right now. “I call our governor, I call on our senators to send a message to our president and ask him not to set foot in El Paso,” David Stout, a Democratic commissioner, told Vice News, adding that he believes “the president and his administration has contributed the hate, has contributed to the vitriol, has contributed to the negativity that we have been experiencing.”
Stout represents El Paso Precinct 2, the location of Trump’s February rally. Hosting such a rally comes at a tremendous cost to the city, which billed the Trump campaign $470,417.05 for services rendered. Six months later, the campaign has yet to pay the $569,204 (the original bill plus late fees) it owes El Paso. The debt is noted on a July 18th invoice to the Trump campaign. Laura Cruz-Acosta, communications manager for the El Paso city manager’s office, confirmed to the Texas Tribune on Monday that the bill is still outstanding.
Rolling Stone reached out to the Trump campaign for more information regarding their refusal to pay the bill, but did not receive an immediate response.
Alexsandra Annello, a member of El Paso’s city council, cited the bill in explaining to the Tribune why Trump should refrain from visiting the city in the wake of Saturday’s shooting. “Our resources are really strained right now,” she said. “Our police and fire are exhausted, our health department had for three days straight been working with the reunification of families. As you see from the bill, these are the services required for a presidential visit. In addition to financial costs, our community and resources are already strained and do not need this extra burden.”
During his rally in February, Trump tried to drum up fear of immigrants in the border city, at one point chanting “murders, murders, murders, killings, murders” to drive home his point. A few days earlier during his State of the Union address, Trump falsely claimed El Paso is one of America’s most dangerous cities. Even Dee Margo, the Republican mayor who on Monday invited Trump to El Paso, objected. “El Paso was NEVER one of the MOST dangerous cities in the US,” he tweeted. So too did Escobar, writing: “@POTUS is once again lying and using the #SOTU address to spread falsehoods about our beloved city of El Paso.”
In a competing rally on the other side of town, O’Rourke praised the his city’s community. “El Paso is one of the safest cities in the United States of America,” he proclaimed. “Safe not because of walls, but in spite of walls. Secure because we treat one another with dignity and respect. That is the way that we make our communities and our country safe.”
“There is no bargain in which we can sacrifice some of our humanity to gain a little more security,” he added. “We know that we deserve and will lose both of them if we do. We stand for the best traditions and values of this country.”
O’Rourke paid off all of the $21,000 he owed for the use of the city’s police force ahead of the deadline to do so.
While speaking with CNN on Monday evening, O’Rourke echoed the message of community he delivered in February, praising how El Paso has responded with “kindness and love and generosity” to the shooting on Saturday.
He also elaborated on why he doesn’t feel the president should visit the city.
“I was just talking to a woman who came up and said to me, ‘Why is he coming here when he hates us?'” O’Rourke said. “She’s reflecting the fact that he described Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, and has repeatedly tried to make us afraid of those who do not look like the majority of this country. … You only get kids in cages, you only separate from their parents, you only lose the lives of seven children in custody in this last year, you only have an attack like this when you have a president who gives people permission to act on this hatred and this racism and this intolerance. We must connect those dots.”
This post has been updated.