President Donald Trump is crediting himself with the idea of building a Mexico border wall of solar panels. But that looks to be a borrowed brainwave; others pitched a solar wall back when he was a skeptic of tapping power from the sun.
Trump’s speech in Iowa on Wednesday night was rife with misstatements. He claimed beneficial effects to the economy from actions he has not yet taken. He declared that the “time has come” for a welfare moratorium for immigrants that has been in place for two decades. He juiced up the tax burden on Americans beyond reality.
A look at some of his claims:
Trump: “We’re thinking about building the wall as a solar wall so it creates energy and pays for itself. And this way, Mexico will have to pay much less money. And that’s good right? … Pretty good imagination, right? Good? My idea.”
The Facts: His idea was to run with the idea of others.
The notion of adding solar panels to the border wall was explored in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in March. Vasilis Fthenakis, director of the Center for Life Cycle Analysis at Columbia University, and Ken Zweibel, former director of the Solar Institute at George Washington University, concluded it was “not only technically and economically feasible, it might even be more practical than a traditional wall.”
They said a 2,000-mile solar wall could cost less than $1 billion, instead of tens of billions for a traditional border wall, and possibly become “wildly profitable.” The writers were studying a concept laid out by Homero Aridjis and James Ramey in the online World Post in December.
The idea also was proposed by one of the companies that submitted its design to the government as a border wall prototype. Las Vegas-based Gleason Partners proposed covering some sections of the wall with solar panels and said that selling electricity from it could eventually cover the cost of construction.
Trump repeatedly described solar power in the campaign as “very, very expensive” and “not working so good.”
Trump: “The time has come for new immigration rules which say that those seeking admission into our country must be able to support themselves financially and should not use welfare for a period of at least five years. And we’ll be putting in legislation to that effect very shortly.”
The Facts A federal law passed in 1996 already has that effect. It bars most foreigners who enter the country on immigrant visas from being eligible for federal benefits like Social Security and food stamps for the first five years. States typically have the authority to determine eligibility for local programs. As for people in the country illegally, they are generally prohibited from those benefits altogether. Same with foreigners who are in the U.S. on non-immigrant visas.
Trump: “You see what we’ve already done. Homebuilders are starting to build again. We’re not confiscating their land with ridiculous rules and regulations that don’t make sense.”
The Facts: Housing starts as tracked by the Census Bureau have actually fallen over the past three months. Trump seems a bit mixed up on deregulation. Some of the biggest constraints on homebuilders come from local governments, rather than federal rules.
Trump: “Farmers are able to plow their field. If they have a puddle in the middle of their field, a little puddle the size of this, it’s considered a lake and you can’t touch it. And if you touch it, bad, bad things happen to you and your family. We got rid of that one, too, OK?”
The Facts: Trump appears to be referring to an executive order he signed in February that the Environmental Protection Agency review its rule on regulations to protect clean water. The rule can stop some farmers from using pesticides and herbicides. But Trump hasn’t overturned the rule at this stage as his remarks suggest.
Trump: “Unemployment is at a 16-year low.”
The Facts: Unemployment is indeed that low, at 4.3%.
Trump: “We’re working really hard on massive tax cuts. It would be, if I get it the way I want it, the largest tax cut in the history of the United States of America. Because right now, we are one of the highest-taxed nations in the world. Really on a large-scale basis, we are the highest tax nation in the world. … And I think it’s going to happen.”
The Facts: The overall U.S. tax burden is actually one of the lowest among the 32 developed and large emerging-market economies tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Taxes made up 26.4% of the total U.S. economy in 2015, according to the OECD. That’s far below Denmark’s tax burden of 46.6%, Britain’s 32.5% or Germany’s 36.9%. Just four OECD countries had a lower tax bite than the U.S.: South Korea, Ireland, Chile and Mexico.
It’s not clear Trump will sign the largest tax cut in U.S. history. His administration has yet to settle on enough details of any planned overhaul to make that claim. To put the claim in context, Ronald Reagan essentially cut taxes during his first term by slightly more than 2% of the nation’s gross domestic product. For Trump to surpass that, his tax cut would essentially have to be more than $400 billion a year.
Trump: “We have Gary Cohn, who’s the president of Goldman Sachs. That’s somebody. He’s the president of Goldman Sachs. He had to pay over $200 million in taxes to take the job, right? … This is the president of Goldman Sachs, smart. Having him represent us. He went from massive paydays to peanuts. … But these are people that are great, brilliant business minds. And that’s what we need.”
The Facts: Trump appears to be confusing taxes paid with stocks sold. Cohn and his family members held about $220 million in Goldman stock, which he had to divest in order to resolve possible conflicts of interest before becoming White House economic adviser. He would have had to pay taxes on any capital gains from the sale, but that sum would only be a fraction of the figure cited by Trump. Moreover, Cohn had to divest the stock in pieces, so the final tally from his sales is unclear, as the stock has declined from highs in March.
It’s also worth noting the president’s about-face praise for Wall Street. His campaign routinely criticized Goldman Sachs (gs) and its ties to Hillary Clinton, even using it as a villain in a political ad that included video of the bank’s chairman and CEO.
Trump: “You have a gang called MS-13. … They do things that nobody can believe. These are true animals. We are moving them out of the country by the thousands, by the thousands. … We’re getting them out, MS-13.”
The Facts: There is no publicly available evidence to support this claim about the violent gang. In recent weeks, federal authorities have arrested hundreds of suspected MS-13 gang members. Many of those arrested have been identified by the government as immigrants, but it is unclear if they have yet been deported. Any suspected gang members who are U.S. citizens cannot be kicked out of the country. The gang was formed decades ago in Los Angeles and has spread.
Overall arrests of immigrants in the country illegally have increased in recent months, but deportations have declined slightly, according to the most recently available government data.
Trump: “Since I was elected, illegal border crossings—and this is without the wall, before the wall—have decreased by more than 75%, a historic and unprecedented achievement.”
The Facts: That’s overblown, according to government figures about the Mexico border. The decrease in his first four full months in office is about 59%, still substantial but not more than 75%.
More than 56,600 foreigners have been caught crossing from Mexico illegally between February and May, down from 137,800 people in the same period during President Barack Obama’s last year in office.
The number of illegal crossings is not known because some people slip in undetected. Officials consider the number arrested to be representative of the broader trend of attempts to cross illegally.