Trump's vision of a 'great wall' starts to look like a mirage

View of the U.S. - Mexico border wall on November 19, 2014 in Calexico, California.
View of the U.S. - Mexico border wall on November 19, 2014 in Calexico, California.
In his congressional address this week, Donald Trump declared, "We want all Americans to succeed, but that can't happen in an environment of lawless chaos. We must restore integrity and the rule of law at our borders. For that reason, we will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border." Unlike his campaign rhetoric, he made no mention of Mexico financing the project.The phrasing was nevertheless hard to take seriously, since there appears to be a comfortable middle ground between "lawless chaos" and a 2,000-mile border wall between the United States and Mexico.But the word that stood out for me was "soon." It followed similar remarks a week ago, when the president told CPAC, "We're building the wall. In fact, it's going to start soon. Way ahead of schedule, way ahead of schedule. Way, way, way ahead of schedule."In reality, there is no schedule to be way ahead of, so no one seems to have any idea what Trump is talking about. Perhaps the White House has found a stash of money that can be quickly redirected to the president's dream project? Not exactly.

President Donald Trump's promise to use existing funds to begin immediate construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border has hit a financial roadblock, according to a document seen by Reuters.The rapid start of construction, promised throughout Trump's campaign and in an executive order issued in January on border security, was to be financed, according to the White House, with "existing funds and resources" of the Department of Homeland Security.But so far, the DHS has identified only $20 million that can be re-directed to the multi-billion-dollar project, according to a document prepared by the agency and distributed to congressional budget staff last week.

To be sure, $20 million may sound like a lot of money, but the price tag on a wall is estimated at roughly $20 billion. A Politico report, citing estimates from Capitol Hill sources, added that some lawmakers believe the price "could be as high as $50 billion when all is said and done."Trump didn't dispute the budget figures, though he did say he expects to bring the costs down through his amazing negotiating skills.And while we wait for evidence of these skills to emerge, $20 million isn't going to cut it. The administration can cover roughly two miles of border fence for that amount, but that's about it.Which means Trump will need Congress to write a hefty check for the project. There may be some appetite for this among far-right lawmakers, but it's worth noting that the American mainstream is far from impressed with the idea. The Pew Research Center's latest poll found:

As was the case throughout the presidential campaign, more Americans continue to oppose (62%) than favor (35%) building a wall along the entire U.S. border with Mexico. And while President Donald Trump has said the U.S. would make Mexico pay for the wall, the public is broadly skeptical: 70% think the U.S. would ultimately pay for the wall, compared with just 16% who think Mexico would pay for it.

The Trump administration, however, doesn't seem to care. BuzzFeed reports that federal officials are moving forward anyway: "US Customs and Border Protection posted a notice [late last week] saying it will 'on or about March 6, 2017' issue a solicitation for 'the design and build of several prototype wall structures in the vicinity of the United States border with Mexico.'"