SAN JUAN — There were two legacies at play Tuesday when President Donald Trump visited the Rio Grande Valley: one that was about 450 miles in length and running through the border here, and the other in the same U.S. Capitol building which six days prior was overrun by an angry mob of supporters, where members of the House of Representatives now move to impeach him for a second time.
In the shadow of that wall, the barrier he long touted that now serves as a literal and figurative symbol of division, Trump stood defiant in tone Tuesday, taking no blame over the Capitol riot that claimed five lives and threatened the integrity of democracy.
Nearly 250 supporters, an estimate provided by the Secret Service, greeted Trump at the Valley International Airport in Harlingen as he arrived around 12:55 p.m. A few minutes later, a helicopter flew him to the McAllen Miller International Airport where more people lined the property’s gates waving hands and flags to show their support before he made his way via motorcade to a border wall in San Juan.
Under cold, grey skies, the president marched in a deliberate pace touring the grounds of what he hopes will be his legacy.
Upon arriving, Trump was escorted to place his signature on a plaque commemorating the administration’s construction. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf — who stepped down a day before the Texas trip — signed the same plaque on Oct. 29.
A crowd of under 100 people, mostly federal employees, law enforcement, and about a dozen local landowners, applauded while others held out their cellphones to record the historic visit meant to shift focus from the riot less than a week ago, which many believed was stoked by the president’s rhetoric claiming the election was “stolen” from him.
During the insurrection, Trump attempted to pacify the mob telling them, “We love you. You’re very special. Go home.” Five people never made it home. They lost their lives, including a law enforcement officer, as a result of the violence which continued after the one-minute video released by the president.
A subdued, yet non-conciliatory tone was employed on Tuesday.
“Now is the time for our nation to heal. It’s time for peace and for calm,” the president said in a 20-minute speech in San Juan.
Trump made no mention of election fraud or intention to stay in office in spite of his loss. Instead, he revisited 2015 campaign promises repackaging them now as “a real success story.”
Fixing the “broken” and “dysfunctional” immigration system was addressed in a notorious speech in which he broadly characterized Mexicans entering the United States as dangerous.
“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” Trump said during his campaign announcement on June 16, 2015.
On his first public appearance in San Juan after the mob and revocation of his social media accounts, Trump evoked similar characterizations as he discussed immigration policies implemented under his administration.
“We have aliens released in our country, many of whom are serious criminals, and we’ve stopped that,” he said referring to the Migrant Protection Protocols keeping asylum seekers in Mexico until their U.S. court hearings. The controversial program vastly reduced the wave of migrants entering the country through the Valley in 2019, but it placed them and their children in unsafe conditions that led to exploitation, rape, hunger and drownings along the border.
Trump thanked his counterpart, Mexico’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and border law enforcement for their part in helping reduce the flow of migrants into the U.S., but knew his policies are not as cemented as the 450 miles of border construction.
“I know they’re thinking about removing them,” Trump said referring to the Biden administration’s intention to undo his immigration policies. “I hope they don’t do that. I hope they don’t do that. It would be a travesty for our country.”
The president returned to Washington D.C. around 3 p.m. Hours later, the House would vote on an ultimately unsuccessful resolution invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Calls for the president’s removal after the riots will evolve into a second impeachment vote — a move that could tarnish the legacy of a one-term president.