Chao confirms Trump pushing Ryan to withhold Gateway project funding

Chao confirms Trump pushing Ryan to withhold Gateway project funding
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Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoThe Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? House committee launches investigation into Transportation Secretary Chao Trump awards Medal of Valor, civilian honors to responders in Dayton and El Paso shootings MORE on Tuesday confirmed that President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE is pressing Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThree-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea MORE (R-Wis.) to withhold funding for the multibillion-dollar Gateway rail project in the New York metro region.

“Is the president of the United States personally intervening with the Speaker to kill this project?” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) asked the secretary.

“Yes,” Chao replied. “The president is concerned about the viability of this project and the fact that New York and New Jersey have no skin in the game.”

Chao argued to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that New York and New Jersey should contribute more funding to the project, which aims to rebuild passenger rail connections under the Hudson River between New York City and Newark, N.J.

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The Washington Post reported that Trump last week urged Ryan to withhold funding for the project, which has been a focus for lawmakers from New Jersey and New York.

Chao initially told Maloney that the report is “probably” true, but suggested the congressman ask the White House for the president’s position.

“I read it in the newspapers, just like you did,” Chao said.

But Chao confirmed the administration’s efforts when pushed by Maloney as to whether the president is trying to block the funds.

"They need to step up and bear their fair share. They are two of the richest states in the county,” she said of New York and New Jersey. “If they absorb all these funds, there will be no other funds for the rest of country."

A spokeswoman for Chao told reporters after the hearing that the secretary "cannot independently verify" the conversation between the president and Ryan.

“There’s no killing. I don’t think anyone was saying that the president was killing anything,” said Transportation Department spokeswoman Marianne McInerney.

“No one has said this is a program that should be killed. This is not a project that should be killed. What we simply are stating is that it needs some funding equation," she added.

A senior Transportation Department official in a call with reporters Tuesday afternoon clarified that the administration's issue is with the funding set aside for the project in the current omnibus spending bill.

“The dispute, if you will, or the conversation as it currently stands is about how to fund, not about whether the states that care so substantially about these should be able to go ahead with them,” the official said, characterizing the funds for Gateway as an earmark. Congress banned earmarks in 2011.

But Rep. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartThe 9 House Republicans who support background checks House passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans House fails to pass temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans MORE (R-Fla.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, pushed back against any portrayal of the funding for the Gateway project as an earmark, saying the funds were "authorized."

"At this stage, reopening that bill would I think blow everything up. Blow everything up," Diaz-Balart told reporters of the upcoming omnibus.

The Transportation Department official also emphasized the administration's view that states "put [their] own skin in the game" instead of using government loans to fund the projects under Gateway.

In separate heated exchanges with two New Jersey lawmakers at the hearing, Chao argued the states should increase their investment in the Gateway project rather than relying on the federal government.

“New York and New Jersey can come up with larger than zero or 5 percent,” Chao told Rep. Albio SiresAlbio B. SiresActivists push for tougher sanctions on Nicaragua's government Biden, Harris lead in 2020 endorsements New Jersey Dems tell Pentagon not to use military funds for border wall MORE (D-N.J.).

Since taking office, the Trump administration has backed away from the federal government’s involvement in the project, withdrawing from the program’s board last summer. And in a December letter, the Federal Transit Administration denied the presence of an agreement that says the federal government would split the cost of the project with New Jersey and New York.

“There’s no commitment. There’s no document. There’s no pending application,” Chao told Rep. Donald Payne Jr.Donald Milford Payne Jr.Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support Biden, Harris lead in 2020 endorsements MORE (D-N.J.) on Tuesday.

Updated at 5:30 p.m.