On the border, Trump turns political in making case for his wall

WASHINGTON — Wearing a "Make America Great Again" campaign hat, and criticizing his Democratic antagonists in Congress and their 2020 presidential hopefuls, President Donald Trump on Thursday made the case again for a border wall during a roundtable with law enforcement officials near the U.S.-Mexico line in McAllen, Texas.

"They say a wall is medieval. So is a wheel," Trump said of his critics. "A wheel works and a wall works."

Trump mostly listened to praise from participants, including Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and presentations from law enforcement officers who used seized drugs, guns and money to illustrate their points about dangerous contraband being brought across the border.

Several of the visual aids were seized at points of entry, and one picture used in a presentation was from a tunnel that the officer said was taken near a point where there is currently a barrier. Trump's Democratic critics have said that a wall will not be effective because most of the undocumented immigrants, illicit drugs and ill-gotten money entering the U.S. aren't coming through gaps in the southern border.

19 PHOTOS
Migrants in Tijuana trickling over and under the border wall
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Migrants in Tijuana trickling over and under the border wall
Honduran migrant Joel Mendez, 22, passes his eight-month-old son Daniel through a hole under the U.S. border wall to his partner, Yesenia Martinez, 24, who had already crossed in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Moments later Martinez surrendered to waiting border guards while Mendez stayed behind in Tijuana to work, saying he feared he'd be deported if he crossed. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Central American migrants planning to surrender to U.S. border patrol agents climb over the U.S. border wall from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, late Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Thousands of migrants are living in crowded tent cities in the Mexican city of Tijuana after undertaking a grueling, weeks-long journey to the U.S. border. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
In a photo taken from Playas of Tijuana, Mexico, Honduran migrants climb over a section of the U.S. border fence before handing themselves in to border control agents, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. A steady trickle of Central American migrants have been finding ways to climb over, tunnel under or slip through the U.S. border wall to plant their feet on U.S. soil and ask for asylum. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Honduran migrants who jumped the border wall to the U.S. side, help other members of their families to jump the wall, in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the United States, but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Honduran migrant Joel Mendez, 22, feeds his eight-month-old son Daniel as his partner Yesenia Martinez, 24, crawls through a hole under the U.S. border wall, in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Moments later Martinez surrendered to waiting border guards while Mendez stayed behind in Tijuana to work, saying he feared he'd be deported if he crossed. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Yesenia Martinez, 24, carries her eight-month-old son Daniel as she looks for a place to cross the U.S. border wall to surrender to border patrol and request asylum, in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Martinez surrendered to waiting border guards while her partner Joel Mendez stayed behind in Tijuana to work, saying he feared he'd be deported if he crossed. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A woman climbs the U.S. border wall, planning to surrender to U.S. Border Patrol agents and apply for asylum, as she crosses from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Often within minutes, border guards quickly arrive to escort migrants to detention centers and begin "credible fear" interviews. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A woman holding a baby peers through the U.S. border fence as she tries to reach a point where scores of migrants have been crossing in recent days, now blocked by private security, in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Legal groups argue that federal law states that immigrants can apply for asylum no matter how they enter U.S. territory. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Honduran migrant Leivi Ortega, 22, wearing a rosary, looks at her phone while she, her partner and their young daughter, wait in hopes of finding an opportunity to cross the U.S. border from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. In early December, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that the San Diego sector experienced a "slight uptick" in families entering the U.S. illegally with the goal of seeking asylum. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Yesenia Martinez, 24, reaches back from the San Diego, California side of the U.S. border wall to get her baby's bottle, after crossing underneath from Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Martinez is among a wave of Central Americans getting past the imposing barrier between Mexico and California and expediting their asylum claims by readily handing themselves over to U.S. agents. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A Honduran migrant helps a young girl cross to the American side of the border wall, in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. In November, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation suspending asylum rights for people who try to cross into the U.S. illegally from Mexico, although a divided U.S. appeals court has refused to immediately allow the Trump administration to enforce the ban. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Salvadoran migrant Cesar Jobet, right, and Daniel Jeremias Cruz hide from U.S. border agents after they dug a hole in the sand under the border wall and crossed over to the U.S. side, in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. When the two youths were detected by agents they ran back to the Mexican side. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks with his son in his arms after jumping the U.S. border wall with plans to turn himself over to U.S. border patrol agents in order to apply for asylum, seen from Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. In twos or threes, or sometimes by the dozen, migrants arrive at the U.S. border wall and manage to cross over. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks with his son in his arms after jumping the wall to the U.S that separates Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns Thursday about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks with his son in his arms after jumping the wall to the U.S that separates Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns Thursday about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks after jumping the wall to the U.S that separates Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns Thursday about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In a photo taken from the Tijuana, Mexico, side of the border wall, a guard on the U.S. side, at left, watches Honduran migrants jump the wall into the United States, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S., but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In a photo taken from the Tijuana, Mexico, side of the border, two immigrants on U.S. soil try to jump the second wall before border police arrived and arrested them, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S., but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In a photo taken from the Tijuana, Mexico, side of the border wall, a U.S. Border Patrol agent is seen as Honduran migrants who jumped the wall surrender on the U.S. side, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S., but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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When Trump spoke, his remarks were aimed squarely at Democrats, whom he accused of politicizing the issue of border security in a misguided attempt to score points with voters.

"They think it's good politically. I think it's a disaster" for them, he said. "I'm not doing it for politics."

Reviving a theme from a central tenet of his campaign for Republican candidates in last year's midterm elections, which flipped the House into Democratic hands and increased the GOP majority in the Senate by two seats, Trump charged that Democrats are embracing crime by refusing to give him the money he needs to build a wall.

"Nobody's going to win the battle of 'strong borders and no crime' as opposed to 'open borders and crime doesn't matter,'" he said.

Trump has asked Congress for $7 billion in funds for border security and humanitarian assistance, including $5.7 billion for the wall. Last year, a Congress led by Republicans in both chambers failed to enact spending bills with money for the wall, and the new Congress is stuck at an impasse with Trump over that line item. As a result, portions of the federal government have been shut down since Dec. 22.

As he left for the border Thursday morning, the president told reporters at the White House that he "probably" would declare a national emergency if he couldn't get Congress to agree to fund the wall.

"I'm not prepared to do that yet, but if I have to, I will," he said. "If this doesn't work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely."

In Texas, Trump said the outcome of the wall fight is central to the next election.

"All they're doing is looking at 2020 and they figure they can't win maybe they can do this or they can come up with some other issue," he said. "I won't consider myself to have that great achievement unless we can straighten out your border, and we're working on it."

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People who might run against Trump in 2020
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People who might run against Trump in 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden

(Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

(Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

(Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Sen. Kamala Davis (D-Calif.)

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)

(Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg

(Photo by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)

(Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (D)

(Photo by: REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

(Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

(Photo credit MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley

(Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.)

(Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)

(Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)

(Photo credit ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick

(Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

(Photo by James Keivom/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Environmental activist Tom Steyer

(Photo by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez

(Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton 

(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom

(Photo by Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

(Photo credit FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

(Photo credit should read JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images)

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

(Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images)

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)

(Photo credit TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y)

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

California Gov. Jerry Brown

(Photo by Tiffany Rose/Getty Images for Caruso )

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey

(Photo by Moeletsi Mabe/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.)

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Former Vice President Al Gore

(Photo credit DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

(Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.)

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

(Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images,)

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.)

(Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

Albin Lohr-Jones/Pool via Bloomberg

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Michael Bloomberg

(Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

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