WASHINGTON — New York and New Jersey Republicans said House Speaker Paul Ryan told them Wednesday that if they want funding for the Gateway projects to remain in the omnibus spending bill, they’ve got to work it out with President Donald Trump.
Ryan (R-Wis.) held the closed door meeting with the seven lawmakers in his office in the Capitol Building as Congress seeks to craft and pass a more than $1 trillion omnibus spending bill by a March 23 deadline to keep the government open until Sept. 30.
The speaker told the lawmakers that Trump has threatened to veto that spending bill if the $900 million for Gateway’s Hudson River tunnel and bridge is in it, though he hasn’t explained why, said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).
Trump urged Ryan to remove the Gateway funding three times since first bringing it up at Billy Graham’s Capitol Rotunda funeral service on Feb. 28, King said the speaker told them. “Paul said he’s never seen him so adamant about anything,” King said.
King said Ryan had no problem with the funding. “He said to try and work it out,” King said, but added, “He doesn’t want to pass a bill that the president’s going to veto.”
King said as chairman of the Friends of Ireland, he’ll get a chance to talk to Trump during Thursday’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day with the Irish prime minister. “I’ll be sitting with the president tomorrow, so I have to figure out how to bring it up between the bagpipers,” he said.
Several lawmakers said they believe that Trump is opposing the Gateway funding either to target Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for blocking his agenda and nominees or to seek leverage for a deal with the leader of the Senate Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also opposes the Gateway funding, King said Ryan told the group.
A senior administration official said in an email Wednesday, “The administration has been very clear that we don’t think this an efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”
Administration officials have said they object to Gateway’s funding structure: the states and local areas benefiting the most have not offered to put up any of their own money because they say an Obama administration agreement allowed them to pay with federal grants and loans.
At a Senate hearing on infrastructure Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao complained about the Gateway program when Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) asked her to commit to the project and to urge the president to back it as well.
“I can’t commit to something I don’t know. They did not come in with a realistic financing plan,” Chao said, adding Gateway’s nine “projects are unusual in their unwillingness to follow the process like other states.”
Pressed again by Blumenthal, Chao said, “A campaign is being waged in the public arena to bully the department, to pressure the federal government, to fund these projects.”
Blumenthal said, “I urge you to advise the president to back off his threat to shut down the government over the Gateway project.”