The probability that President Trump builds his "big, beautiful wall" just got ten times more likely. On Wednesday the White House announced plans to divert $3.6 billion from military construction projects to erect new wall structures along the southern border with Mexico. The move follows a devastating report in July from U.S. Customs and Border Protection revealing that President Trump had not built a single mile of new wall that didn’t merely replace old fencing since taking office, contradicting administration claims.
Just days after the CPB report, however, the president received welcome news from the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court approved the use of $2.5 billion in military funding for border wall construction, which the White House claimed would create 100 miles of new fencing. If a similar cost-per-mile holds for the new funding, the administration could reasonably hope to construct an additional 144 miles of wall, bringing the total newly built fencing to 244 miles.
Between 1990, when President George H.W. Bush first constructed a 14-mile wall along the San Diego-Tijuana border, and 2011, when President Barack Obama falsely declared the wall "basically complete," the United States constructed 649 miles of border fencing, much of which failed to meet the demands of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. If President Trump succeeds at building the 244 miles of new fencing, he can claim a 38% expansion of all the border wall ever constructed under four previous presidents over nearly three decades.
That projection does not take into account additional funding for 86 miles of new primary wall, 24 miles of new levee wall, and 131 miles of Pentagon-funded wall that the White House had already secured before the Supreme Court’s decision in July. If all that fencing is built, President Trump will be able to boast of an additional 241 miles of wall, bringing the total to 1,134 miles, covering 58% of the southern border.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump promised to build "a big, beautiful wall" and to make Mexico pay for it. He has thus far argued that the renegotiation of trade deals with Mexico fulfills the latter promise. But even the slipperiest political rhetoric cannot suffice to create the illusion of a border wall where none exists. Over the past month, against all odds and expectations, President Trump has at last shown progress on fulfilling that central campaign promise. Most impressive of all, his critics continue to underestimate his political skill.