WASHINGTON — Many New York lawmakers took President Donald Trump’s recent threat to veto a must-pass omnibus spending bill if it includes $900 million for the Gateway program’s Hudson Tunnel and Portal Bridge as nothing less than a hostile act.
“When you hear him say, ‘We’re eliminating one of the biggest infrastructure projects that can principally benefit New York and New Jersey,’ what is that but ‘I declare war,’ ” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans). “It is a complete slap in the face of New York.”
Meeks and other New York lawmakers — most of them Democrats — said this is just the latest clash in a highly unusual public political battle of words and deeds between the lifelong New Yorker and New York State since he won the presidency.
Much of the conflict is over the conservative and partisan Trump administration’s dismantling of Democratic initiatives, but it is also about New Yorkers’ fury over his threats to their treasured state and local tax deductions, Zadroga 9/11 health funds and Gateway.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a Trump supporter, said some of the president’s policies have been good for New York — especially for economic growth — but acknowledged that “New Yorkers have rightly pushed back on others that would have had a negative impact on our state.”
And New York Democrats, and sometimes Republicans, have counterattacked: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has blocked Trump’s agenda and nominees, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has criticized his moves, and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has filed more than 100 lawsuits against his administration.
Such tension and distrust between a president and his home state is “very uncharacteristic,” said John Hudak, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and author of “Presidential Pork,” a book about presidents directing grants to key states.
Trump won the presidential election as a Republican while losing in largely Democratic New York State — a place both he and Schumer, the leader of the Senate Democratic opposition to him, call home.
“There’s never been anything quite like this,” said presidential historian H.W. Brands at the University of Texas, Austin. “There have been aspects of this in the past. Ronald Reagan was more conservative than much of California. But he never attacked his state, nor it him.”
Brands added, “Some of it is the anomaly of Donald Trump, a newcomer to politics who owes nothing politically to anyone in his home state.”
Amtrak’s proposed $24 billion Gateway project would eventually double the capacity at Penn Station by adding new tracks and platforms and a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River.
Insults have flown fast and furious between Trump and New York politicians.
Trump has derided New York’s senior senator as the “head clown” and “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer.” He called Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) a “lightweight flunky.” In a long-standing feud, Trump described Schneiderman as “sleazy.”
Schumer, in turn, described Trump as a “dysfunctional president.” Gillibrand called for Trump to resign over women’s allegations of his sexual misconduct. Schneiderman, after winning a $25 million settlement from Trump University, said Trump is just a “fraud defendant.”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) now supports Trump, but in early 2016 he called Trump “unfit to be president” and recently questioned his honesty after he moved to renege on Gateway commitments. “Loyalty and keeping word cannot be a one-way street,” King said.
The tax cut bill Trump championed — and now is his signature legislative achievement — exacerbated tensions because it shrinks state and local tax deductions to $10,000, raising federal income taxes for many middle- and upper middle-class homeowners on Long Island and the rest of New York.
Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the corporate group Partnership for New York City, told the New York City Council on Feb. 26 that the tax law will boost corporations’ global competitiveness but warned also it could create a talent drain as New Yorkers flee high taxes.
“Anyone who thinks migration of jobs and high earners out of the city isn’t happening should speak to the Realtors in Florida,” Wylde said.
Asked what Trump has done for New York since becoming president, King paused for a few moments, and said, “MS-13.”
Zeldin joined King in citing Trump’s visit to Long Island and his White House meeting to highlight the nationwide crackdown on the vicious street gang as an important contribution to New York. They noted Trump invited the parents of two Brentwood teens killed by gang members to his State of the Union speech, where he addressed them personally.
Trump’s visit to Long Island, however, stands out as a rare trip to his home state. Trump abandoned plans to return to his Manhattan headquarters on weekends after local security costs soared and anti-Trump activists organized protests around Trump Tower.
Republicans from upstate New York and other states downplay the Trump-New York clash.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-Buffalo), the first congressman to endorse Trump, took Trump’s side in the dispute over the Gateway program and blamed New York Democrats for their “nasty partisan politics” against Trump.
“I don’t think that the president is picking on New York,” he said in a phone interview. “We’ve got a president looking out for America because New York is a state in decline.”
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who has been in Congress for two decades, focused on Trump’s personality.
“I believe that Trump enjoys the opportunity to engage in these tests of strength, tests of will and tests of wits,” he said. “I just wish there was more humor in it.”
Schumer declined to talk about the clash, which he called “politics.” The White House and Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump’s favorability ratings in New York State have eroded from 41 percent in December 2016 to 33 percent last month, though they have been constant at about 40 percent upstate and in the suburbs, the Siena poll reported. The drop has been from 34 percent to 25 percent in New York City.
And 71 percent of New York Republicans told the Siena poll last month that they view him favorably, less than the 82 percent of Republicans nationally offering that view in a Marist poll last month.
Zeldin said some Republicans in his district have told him they’re put off by Trump’s tweets or the tax bill’s impact on them. But most, he said, back the president.
During the campaign, Democrats and some defecting Republicans warned to expect the worst if Trump won. But just days before he did, Mayor Bill de Blasio said sometimes a candidate turns into a president who does the unexpected: “Let’s see what President-elect Trump decides to do.”
But shortly after Trump threatened to veto the omnibus spending bill with Gateway funding, de Blasio’s spokesman Seth Stein said, “At this point, it’s clear President Trump has abandoned all pretense of helping working people. We can’t expect him to be an advocate for New Yorkers.”