Fact-checking Kamala Harris’ claim about cost of Trump’s border wall

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during the Women's March on Washington, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during the Women's March on Washington, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Hundreds of people march along a levee toward the Rio Grande to oppose the wall the U.S. government wants to build on the river separating Texas and Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Mission, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Hundreds of people march along a levee toward the Rio Grande to oppose the wall the U.S. government wants to build on the river separating Texas and Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Mission, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Could President Trump’s border wall cost taxpayers about $70 billion?

That’s what U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., recently claimed on Twitter.

"Trump is trying to hold the gov't hostage over a border wall we don’t need that could cost taxpayers ~$70B to build & $150M/yr to maintain," Harris tweeted on Aug. 24, 2017.

Harris' tweet was in response to Trump's recent threat to shut down the government if Congress doesn't fund the construction of a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

PolitiFact California dug into border wall estimates for a fact-check in April 2017. We noted at the time that cost projections for the wall vary greatly.

Harris’ tweet omits the wide range of forecasts in favor of an April 2017 estimate by the Democratic staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. It said in a report that costs could soar to nearly $70 billion — not including the significant costs and legal resources required for land acquisition.

This is the support for Harris’ claim. But it’s from a partisan source and it represents, by far, the highest in a range of projections.

No one knows for sure how much Trump’s wall will cost, where the money will come from (he repeatedly promised during his campaign that Mexico would pay for it) or whether it will even be built. As a result, we won’t rate the claim on our Truth-O-Meter.

Range of estimates

What we do know is that Harris’ number is an outlier.

Here are some relevant projections, as chronicled by news publication Quartz.

  • In July 2016, Bernstein Research, a firm that analyzes material costs, put the price tag at $15 billion to $25 billion, for a wall that stretches 1,000 miles and is 40 feet high, which was Trump’s initial desired height.

  • In January 2017, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said the wall’s cost would be $12 billion to $15 billion.

  • In February 2017, a leaked report from the Department of Homeland Security put it much higher, at $21.6 billion.

  • In April 2017, the Democratic staff report cited the nearly $70 billion cost.

During his campaign, Trump initially said he could build a wall for $4 billion and later estimated $6 billion to $7 billion. In April 2017, he put it at $10 billion or less.

DHS report

In our April 2017 fact check, we settled on the Homeland Security estimate of $21.6 billion as the most reasonable. We used it to rate True the claim by Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, that Trump’s wall could cost the same as one and a half U.S. aircraft carriers.

Peters used the $21.6 billion projection, his spokesman told us, because it "falls somewhere in the middle of the range of cost estimates" and because "this report was commissioned by (Department of Homeland Security) Secretary Kelly, and is based on the Trump administration’s own planning process to build walls and fences to cover almost the entirety of the border that is not already fenced. It is the best current estimate for what President Trump is likely to ask Congress to appropriate to build his border wall."  

The DHS plan would build a series of fences and walls spanning just over 1,250 miles, according to Reuters, the news agency that reviewed the internal report. More than 600 miles of the 2,000-mile Southern border are already fortified.

In our fact check, we also noted that Trump has said, as early as February 2016, that the wall doesn’t need to span the entire border, adding in a television interview, "We don’t need 2,000 (miles), we need 1,000 because we have natural barriers."

The report from the Democratic staff committee places its price tag at $66.9 billion, which it also describes as nearly $70 billion. It arrived at this after studying per-mile cost estimates for individual sections of the wall provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. It also assumed the construction of more than 1,800 miles, more than what Trump has said is necessary.

Conclusion

It’s not clear which estimate, if any, will be accurate in the future.

What’s clear is that Harris selected the highest price tag, based on a report that projects the wall could be hundreds of miles longer than others see as necessary.

Her statement would benefit from a more complete view of the facts.

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Harris picked highest estimate
https://twitter.com/KamalaHarris/status/900891983853629441
President Trump’s border wall “could cost taxpayers about $70 billion to build."
Thursday, August 24, 2017