Trump resists funding for project on his home turf

Trump resists funding for project on his home turf
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE is taking on his own party and lawmakers from his home state as his administration pushes to strip funding for a multibillion-dollar rail project in the New York metro region from an upcoming spending bill. 

The president, who made his fortune as a New York builder, has threatened to veto an omnibus package for the government if it includes funding for what is known as the Gateway project, a rail reconstruction effort that has bipartisan support from New Jersey and New York lawmakers. 

Republicans from the two states are scrambling to persuade Trump to back the $900 million funding for a rebuilding project they see as vital to the region’s livelihood and economy, as Congress runs up against a March 23 deadline to pass a spending bill and avert another government shutdown.

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One of those lawmakers, New York Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingHere are the Democrats who aren't co-sponsoring an assault weapons ban Hotel industry mounts attack on Airbnb with House bill Obama's tan suit controversy hits 5-year anniversary MORE (R), took his case directly to the president on Thursday during a St. Patrick’s Day lunch at the Capitol, where the congressman stressed the project’s significance in a five-minute conversation. 

King told The Hill it would not be “productive” to discuss details of the conversation, which comes as the fate of the funding hangs in the balance. But New York Rep. Dan Donovan (R) told The Hill that King said the conversation was “positive.”

“Pete just said it seemed very positive and it’s our hope that it will be in there,” Donovan said of the Gateway funding. 

New York and New Jersey Republicans have been pressing Trump on Gateway, a series of projects valued at $30 billion that includes restoring the Hudson River’s North River Tunnel, a 106-year-old passageway that suffered damage in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy. 

“I think as a businessman, and a successful one at that, he is persuadable that this is essential,” Rep. Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithHouse approves Democrat-backed bill ending mandatory arbitration US meddling in Hong Kong could trigger a tragedy Republicans plot comeback in New Jersey MORE (R), who represents New Jersey’s 4th Congressional District, told The Hill. 

Smith argued there would be “catastrophic” results should the tunnel under the Hudson River be shut down without building additional tracks to ensure commuters can travel into New York City for work. 

According to a Common Good study, closing a tunnel under the Hudson without building more tracks will decrease system capability by 75 percent. But each track must be shut down for at least a year of restoration within the next 10 years.

The Gateway program would build two more tracks under the Hudson and also replace the Portal Bridge, which consists of two rail tracks that traverse New Jersey’s Hackensack River. Those tracks feed into New York’s Pennsylvania Station, the busiest transit hub in the country, with Jersey Transit, Amtrak, the Long Island Railroad and the New York City Subway all operating there. 

Lawmakers from the region have long stressed the Gateway program’s importance. And the project’s unexpected position as a sticking point in this month’s ongoing omnibus talks caused a group of New York and New Jersey GOP congressmen to press Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas MORE (R-Wis.) for help in a Wednesday meeting. 

Rep. Leonard LanceLeonard LanceGun debate to shape 2020 races GOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Bottom Line MORE (N.J.) asked for the gathering, which included King, Donovan and Smith. Reps. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinBolton returns to political group after exiting administration Lobbying World New York Times editor deletes and apologizes for past 'offensive' tweets MORE (N.Y.), Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoRepublicans plot comeback in New Jersey K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE (N.J.), Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurRepublicans plot comeback in New Jersey Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE (N.J.) and John FasoJohn James FasoThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority GOP House super PAC targets two freshman Dems with new ads Tax law failed to save GOP majority MORE (N.Y.) also participated.

Lance after the meeting said he believed Trump’s opposition to the money is because of a feud the president has with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (D-N.Y.) over political appointments. But the New Jersey congressman struck a slightly different tone Thursday following King’s conversation with Trump. 

“I don’t know whether he is trying hard. I hope that he supports the project,” Lance said when asked about Trump’s efforts to strip the funding. 

“I’m hopeful that we can convince the White House to support this,” he added. 

Ryan is not opposed to funding the project in the omnibus, lawmakers say, but King told reporters on Thursday that the Speaker isn’t willing to battle Trump over the money. 

“If the president wants it in, it’ll be in,” King said of the rail project’s financing.

The Trump administration in recent months backed away from the federal government’s role in Gateway, withdrawing last summer from the program’s board of trustees. Then in December, the Federal Transit Administration denied the existence of an Obama-era agreement that said the government would split the project’s cost with the two states. 

The Department of Transportation said this month it opposes funding Gateway in the omnibus, but does not have an issue with the project itself. And Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights The Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? House committee launches investigation into Transportation Secretary Chao MORE has argued in congressional testimony that the states should put up more money for Gateway, which New York and New Jersey are seeking to finance using government loans like Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing and local funding.

But the impetus for Trump’s push to eliminate the money from the spending bill remains unclear.

While many of the New York and New Jersey Republican members pushing for the federal dollars voted against last year’s GOP tax law or the ObamaCare repeal attempt, several of them doubt their votes are the reason for the president’s opposition. 

“The president looks through it through the lenses of what’s good for the 330 million people of the United States. So sometimes, he’s looking at it differently,” said Donovan, who voted against both the GOP tax cuts and ObamaCare repeal. 

Smith, who also voted against the two pieces of legislation, said he doesn’t think the president’s opposition is a form of political retribution. 

“It is counterproductive in the extreme when you punish someone for some other issue, like SALT,” Smith said, referring to limits on the state and local tax deductions that caused many New York and New Jersey Republicans to vote against the tax bill.

Lance, another lawmaker who voted against both bills, said he doesn’t believe the delegations’ votes were a factor. Meanwhile King, who only voted against the tax cuts, told The Hill he “would have said that’s a possibility” before his talk with Trump. 

But the president is up against a group of lawmakers who hail from the region where he made a name for himself before his foray into politics; first in New York as a real estate magnate and later in Atlantic City, N.J., with his three Trump-branded casinos.

“You were for it before,” Smith said when asked what his pitch would be to the president to persuade him on the funding. 

“No one understands New York, New Jersey like you do. This is critical, not luxury or an extravagance.”