U.S. Politics

Trump says his wall will cost $12 billion. Senate Dems: More like $70 billion.

The U.S.-Mexico border fence stops while passing through farmland |Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

VOX – Politics & Policy

President Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the southern border of the US. It’s going to be expensive.

That’s about specific as it gets with the White House’s proposal to build roughly 2,000 miles of walls and fences across the southern border.

An initial estimate floated by the administration pegged the cost at $12 billion. But a recent report put together by Democrats on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs estimated the price tag for the wall and patrolling technology at a whopping $70 billion — more than four times Trump’s initial figure.

So far, Trump’s administration has requested $3 billion from Congress in extra Department of Homeland Security funding through September — expected to be used to hire border and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, expanding detention and deportation, and beginning work on the wall. The 2018 budget proposal has an additional $2.6 billion for wall construction. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the president would request a total of $4.1 billion between fiscal years 2017 and 2018 for the wall, which would be only a fraction of its projected cost.

Estimates so far have varied, with $12 billion (the administration’s suggestion) at the low end and $15 billion (estimated by House and Senate leadership in January) as a more reasonable estimate. Senate Democrats’ new $70 billion estimate represents almost double DHS’s yearly budget.

With so many unknowns in the building of the wall, it’s impossible to say whose price is right.

“I mean, I don’t know what it will be made of, I don’t know how high it will be, I don’t know if it’s going to have solar panels on each side and what the one side’s going to look like and how it’s going to be painted — I have no idea,” DHS Secretary John Kelly recently testified in the Senate. “So I can’t give you any type of an estimate.”

What’s clear is that Trump’s suggested price tag was a serious lowball. And this latest estimate will likely elevate the already skeptical voices on both sides of the aisle in Congress, wary of funding a vague project with unclear outcomes.

The wall was always going to be super expensive

Put simply, building a wall, the way the president describes it, is really expensive.

When the original Secure Fence Act was passed, the 2006 legislation that called on DHS to build up roughly 700 miles of border security, Congress estimated the whole project would cost roughly $50 billion over 25 years.

It’s not just the price of materials and labor. This is a cost that will have to incorporate legal fights — kicking people off their privately owned land — and difficult terrain, including the Rio Grande river and canyons further west. Accommodating the geography will only hike up the spending.

In border towns in southern Texas, like McAllan, city leaders are advocating for levees instead of fencing — a request that city leaders along the more than 1,000 miles of river have been making for years. The idea is that levees would help mitigate flooding and provide added security. But as David Aguilar, a former deputy commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, admitted in a Senate hearing on the wall in early April, prioritizing these demands would be much more expensive than building a typical land barrier in Yuma, Arizona.

“You have to decide where you are going to put your resources,” David Danelo, a national security expert with the Foreign Policy Research Center, told Vox. “It’s going to be ugly. There’s going to be cost overruns when it comes to South Texas.”

DHS isn’t waiting for Congress to appropriate money to move forward. It’s already in the process of selecting contractors to build wall prototypes — 30-foot segments of wall, in concrete or some other material — as a way of figuring out what a successful wall might look like and how much it could cost. But the fact that the department is already asking Congress for billions demonstrates that there’s no price too high — and that it’s hoping to ask Congress to pay for the wall in installments, even without anyone knowing how much, in total, the project will cost.

As of now, the strategy — fund incrementally now, figure out the rest later — has raised some eyebrows across party lines in Congress. Democrats have threatened to take the government to the brink of a partial shutdown, if necessary, to block wall funding. With no detailed plan from the White House, some Republicans aren’t a sure bet for support either.

Paying for the wall is shaping up to be a losing battle

We know Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall first.

“I never said they’re gonna pay from the start,” Trump told ABC’s David Muir in his first major TV interview as president. “I said Mexico will pay for the wall. … I wanna start the wall immediately. Every supporter I have — I have had so many people calling and tweeting and — and writing letters saying they’re so happy about it. I wanna start the wall. We will be reimbursed for the wall.”

But in Washington, even the notion that Mexico will eventually pay for the wall has become laughable. Most Republican lawmakers have stopped playing along. Mexico’s leadership is adamant that it will not pay for the wall, and in early April, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he has “had no conversation” with Mexico’s foreign minister about the subject.

At the end of the day, everyone is well aware that if the wall is going to be built, it will have to be funded through Congress first, with taxpayer dollars. What no one knows is just how much taxpayers will be on the hook for. Already Democrats have put their foot down, warning Republicans that any attempt to fund the border wall would lead to government shutdown. According to reports from Capitol Hill, Republicans, who are eager to avoid that outcome, have been trying to avoid the subject of wall funding in recent government spending negotiations.

The one possibility for Trump to have his way with Mexico, with a border adjustment tax, is also shaping up to be a nonstarter in Congress. Currently being floated by some House Republicans, this reform would tax imports and exempt exports (Vox’s Dylan Matthews explains this in greater detail), which scores as raising money because the US currently imports more than it exports; the revenue raised far outstrips the cost of the wall.

But, confusingly, Trump has both said he is interested in a “border adjustment” tax and rejected the idea of what a “border adjustment” tax actually is. And it’s unlikely the proposal will even make it through the House, let alone the Senate. Members of the House Freedom Caucus — the conservative faction of the party that successfully stopped the Republican health care plan — have already expressed skepticism.

Whether via border adjustment or direct appropriations, the road to funding the wall runs through Congress. And it’s clearer than ever, given Senate Democrats’ eyebrow-raising estimate, that they (and likely also Republicans) have no intention of giving Trump money to build it.

Tara Golshan

U.S. Politics

Trump touted ‘armada’ he was sending to North Korea while it was sailing in opposite direction

CREDIT: Fox Business screengrab


The White House is blaming the Defense Department for the mistake.

The armada Trump bragged about sending to North Korea last week was actually headed in the opposite direction, according to a new report from the New York Times.

In an interview with Fox Business that aired on April 12, President Trump declared that the United States was “sending an armada” to deal with the threat posed by the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s refusal to stop testing weapons.

“We are sending an armada. Very powerful,” Trump said.

Trump’s comments came on the heels of news reports that the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson strike group was headed toward North Korea — news seemingly confirmed by a strike group spokesman.

The day before Trump’s Fox Business interview aired, Press Secretary Sean Spicer also seemed to confirm the strike group was on the way to North Korea, saying during a news conference that “a carrier group is several things. The forward deployment is deterrence, presence. It’s prudent. But it does a lot of things. It ensures our — we have the strategic capabilities, and it gives the president options in the region.”

“But I think when you see a carrier group steaming into an area like that, the forward presence of that is clearly, through almost every instance, a huge deterrence,” he added. “So I think it serves multiple capabilities.”

News of the strike group’s proximity to North Korea contributed to an alarming NBC report that the U.S. military was “prepared to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea should officials become convinced that North Korea is about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test.”

But turns out it was all false— the strike group wasn’t en route to North Korea last week after all.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that while Trump and Spicer were touting the strike group’s new mission to North Korea, “the Carl Vinson [and] the four other warships in its strike force were at that very moment sailing in the opposite direction, to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean, 3,500 miles southwest of the Korean Peninsula.”

The White House is blaming the Defense Department for the mistake.

“White House officials said on Tuesday they were relying on guidance from the Defense Department,” the Times reports. “Officials there described a glitch-ridden sequence of events, from a premature announcement of the deployment by the military’s Pacific Command to an erroneous explanation by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — all of which perpetuated the false narrative that an American armada was racing toward the waters off North Korea.”

A key to unraveling the confusion, the Times reports, was a photo taken Saturday and posted online by the Navy on Monday showing the Carl Vision sailing through Indonesian islands thousands of miles away from North Korea.

CREDIT: Bradd Jaffy on Twitter

If it makes anyone feel better, the Times reports that the strike group “is now on a northerly course for the Korean Peninsula and is expected to arrive in the region sometime next week,” according to Defense Department officials.

News of the USS Carl Vinson strike group’s true location was first broken by Defense News.

Aaron Rupar

U.S. Politics

‘Does he want me to stop buying his products?’: Jake Tapper calls out Trump’s ‘Buy American’ hypocrisy

CNN’s Jake Tapper (Screengrab)


NN’s Jake Tapper tore into Donald Trump’s hypocritical “Buy American, Hire American” executive order, asking if the president should consider “looking into his own companies business practices first.”

Trump signed the order in Wisconsin on Tuesday, which directs a series of federal agency reviews—though does little to directly impact policy. The president said the order aims to identify where the government can “aggressively promote and use American-made goods.” It also directs federal agencies to reform the H1-B visa laws, which allow companies to bring in highly skilled foreign workers.

At the onset of “The Lead” Tuesday, Tapper pointed out that while Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” order sounds like a step in the right direction, the president’s own business practices directly contradict the order’s intent.

“The president just signed an order to ‘buy American,” Tapper said. “So wait, does that mean he wants me to stop buying Trump products?”

‘“It’s time,’ the president said today, repeatedly assailing cheap subsidized and low-quality foreign goods,” Tapper continued. “It’s an important issue. It’s one I asked then-candidate Trump about in June 2015 because of course, many Trump corporation products are not made in the U.S. Far from it.”

“As for hiring American, a CNN review found that the president as a corporate head has hired more than 1300 foreign guest workers to work at his various businesses here in the U.S., including requesting 78 visas to staff his two Florida properties for this year,” Tapper added.

Watch the take-down below, via CNN:

U.S. Politics

Georgia Race Heads to Runoff

Democratic Candidate For Georgia's 6th District Leading In Polls On Election Day

Joe Raedle—Getty Images


A Georgia congressional election is headed to a runoff that will ratchet up the already significant national attention — and campaign cash — on a race that poses an early measure for President Donald Trump and both major parties ahead of the 2018 midterm elections

Democrats Hope for a Win in Georgia Special Election
Outside Money Dwarfs Local Spending in Georgia Special Election