MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The partial shutdown of the federal government continues, and the sticking point remains the same - whether to give President Trump the $5 billion he wants to build a border wall. Which prompts a question, how much has already been spent on that wall? In an Oval Office interview back in September, Trump told the conservative Daily Caller that he had already gotten $3.2 billion and, quote, "we've done a lot of work on the wall." Well, to help fact check those claims, Louis Jacobson with PolitiFact joins me now. Hi, Lou.
LOUIS JACOBSON: Hi there.
KELLY: So that figure that the president gave The Daily Caller, $3.2 billion already in hand for the wall. Is that accurate?
JACOBSON: That is not accurate. So there was $1.6 billion which was earmarked for border security in the March 2018 omnibus spending bill.
KELLY: So to put that in plain English, that means Congress gave the Trump administration $1.6 billion this March for border funding.
JACOBSON: However, it's supposed to be spent for existing projects. It's not supposed to be for a newly constructed wall along the lines of what the president has been advocating for.
KELLY: So how does he get the other half? How did he bump it up to 3.2 billion?
JACOBSON: We think what he was doing was he was adding in a $1.6 billion amount that was in a Senate spending bill proposal which was not actually passed and signed into law. He sort of jumped the gun and said that we've already got this money. Well, that version of the bill is several versions too old. And we still haven't gotten any additional 1.6 billion.
KELLY: Do we know if the Trump administration has spent all of the money that's been allocated for the border in 2018?
JACOBSON: That's a good question, and the accounts differ. Democrats say that they've spent only a tiny fraction of that. But it's a little confusing because I think probably the different sides may have different definitions of what counts as a border wall. So it's really hard to piece together.
KELLY: Let me move you to the question of whether a lot of work has already been done on the wall, another claim from the president that you were fact checking. Back in March, he was tweeting out photos that he said show the start of the border wall. What do those photos show?
JACOBSON: So those actually show a replacement of an estimated 2.25-mile border wall in Calexico, Calif., that was originally built in the 1990s.
KELLY: 2.25 miles, so this is not sea to shining sea.
JACOBSON: Not sea to shining sea at all, no. Planning for that work was actually started in 2009, which is under President Obama. So it was already underway. It's not something that the president can really claim as something that he kind of demanded happen and then it happened.
KELLY: So, bottom line, have you been able to fact check whether work has begun on the wall that President Trump says he wants to build?
JACOBSON: As far as we know, it hasn't. I mean, there is pretty clear language in the spending bill for that 1.6 billion that was approved in March of 2018. And it really appears that it can't be used for what the president has been kind of framing publicly as his border wall.
KELLY: Just to bring us all the way up to today, Christmas Eve, President Trump has been tweeting. And he wrote this - quote, at some point, the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our country more money than the border wall we're all talking about - crazy," exclamation point, end quote from the president. Do we know what he is talking about? Is he talking about the opportunity cost of the government not being open for business or what?
JACOBSON: I have no idea. I mean, that is one of interpretation. He could also be suggesting that the negative impacts of people crossing the border is going to cost more than the cost of keeping them out via a border wall. But it's really open to a lot of interpretation. I'm not sure anybody besides the president is sure exactly what he meant by it.
KELLY: Louis Jacobson, senior correspondent for PolitiFact. Thanks very much for talking to us.
JACOBSON: Thanks so much.
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