HARLINGEN — President Donald Trump visited Texas on Tuesday with echoes of a second impeachment ringing in Congress and palpable disquiet at the nation’s border with Mexico less than a week after his supporters attempted a violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol.
For the president, whose term ends next week, the visit to the tall steel and concrete barrier near the Rio Grande served to close the book that opened when he launched his presidential campaign more than five years ago: with a promise to build a wall that would stem the tide of unauthorized immigration.
“Everyone here today is part of an incredible success story,” the president said to front-line border security officers and others. “This is a real success story. When I took office, we inherited a broken, dysfunctional and open border. Everybody was pouring in at will.”
But Trump, in a tone far more measured and reserved than the often raucous one he often used at rallies to cement support for his immigration policies, also tacitly acknowledged the unrest and violence last week at the Capitol by rioters who sought to stop the Congress from certifying the president’s loss on Nov. 3.
“This was a difficult year and a very difficult election,” Trump said. “Now is the time for our nation to heal. And it’s time for peace and for calm, respect for law enforcement and the great people within law enforcement, and so many of them are here, is the foundation of the MAGA agenda.”
Trump was greeted at the barrier by a giant American flag draped from a crane. Several smaller American flags were arranged at the base of the barrier.
After speaking with members of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol as he toured the area, the president signed a “Donald Trump” plaque mounted at the bottom of the wall.
Some local elected officials and many Texas Democrats had urged Trump not to visit the state for fear it might stoke more unrest.
“Passions are running dangerously high among supporters and opponents of President Trump,” said Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez, the chief executive of the largest county on the Texas border where Trump is due to arrive for one last inspection of the barrier separating two nations.
“I urge both sides to keep those passions in check, because ultimately the Rio Grande Valley has a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the world that peaceful public discourse is far more effective than public violence.”
And, for the most part, both sides did. Opponents of the president staged demonstrations as did supporters. But there were no reports that the opposing camps clashed with one another.
‘Once in a lifetime experience’
Trump’s South Texas visit began at 1:04 p.m. when he descended from Air Force One at Harlingen International Airport, where he was greeted by about 250 supporters who waited outside amid a cold wind from the north.
He greeted the crowd only briefly before boarding a waiting helicopter that took him for a tour of a section of what he had hoped would be “a big, beautiful wall” paid for by Mexico. He made no public remarks before climbing aboard the helicopter.
That didn’t matter to Rudy Pacheco, a retired plumber from nearby Edinburg, who came to the airport with two family members to greet the president.
“For me, it’s a once in a lifetime experience to get to see him up close,” said Pacheco, sporting a Trump trademark red ball cap. “It was worth it.”
Karina Bustillos said she came to the airport to see Trump to salute the president one last time before he leaves office. But her support, she said, is not blind or without some reservation.
“I don’t approve of all of the things that happened,” Bustillos said. “But I do support our current president.”
Before leaving Washington earlier Tuesday, Trump touted the expansion of the border barrier and said he didn’t want any violence. He also blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer for what he called “the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics” related to their efforts to seek a second impeachment.
Trump on Tuesday took no responsibility for last week’s violence at the U.S. Capitol, despite his comments encouraging supporters to march on the Capitol and praise for them while they were still carrying out the assault.
“People thought that what I said was totally appropriate,” Trump said.
Trump also brushed off Democratic calls on his Cabinet to declare him unfit from office and remove him from power using the 25th Amendment.
“The 25th Amendment is of zero risk to me, but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration,” Trump said. “As the expression goes, be careful of what you wish for.”
Trump said of the border barrier, “It’s been tremendously successful, far beyond what anyone thought.”
Trump carried Texas in his losing bid for reelection and ran stronger than expected in the Democratic stronghold of the Rio Grande Valley. The White House billed the visit, just eight days before his term ends Jan. 20, as celebrating the building of 400 miles of border fencing.
But only a fraction of that was actually new construction; the bulk of it was improving or replacing existing structures that were installed well before Trump was elected.
Activists who have long opposed Trump’s plan for a further fortified barrier protested the president’s visit.
“Trump brings division and violence wherever he goes, and the wall is an extension of that,” South Texas activist and organizer Tannya Benavides said. “The border wall harms U.S. communities and is contrary to American values. To heal and repair our country, we need a clean break.”
Benavides was among several people who assembled in the nearby town of San Juan to protest Trump’s visit. One person wrote a message on his face mask disparaging the president. Another waved a flag with Joe Biden’s name on it. Biden, a Democrat, will replace Trump as president next week.
As the motorcade ferrying Trump’s entourage traveled toward the Rio Grande, several people lined the streets, some chanting “four more years,” even though the president’s term is ending. Other waved flags, both the Stars and Stripes and the iconic Trump banner.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, called the president’s trip a cynical effort to repair his reputation on his way out of the White House door.
“After the death, destruction and division perpetrated by the president, he continues down this path,” Gonzalez said. “He proved it after the assault on our democracy and U.S. Capitol that was incited by his own words. Now he is coming to our border to try to give a better last image to his presidency, he is trying to appease his base.”
That’s not how Morgan Cisneros Graham saw it. The Cameron County Republican Party’s chairwoman organized a rally just outside the Harlingen airport to welcome Trump. Though she denounced the Capitol riots, Graham said she and others still supported Trump. Unlike past presidents, Trump spoke to border residents in a way that struck a nerve, she said. And his focus on the economy resonated with voters along the border, Graham said.
“He spoke to people very much as one of them,” she said. “He was very clear: What you saw is what you what you get.”
USA TODAY reporter Rick Jervis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: President Trump visit to Texas: This is what he saw of his ‘big, beautiful wall’