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Trump urges key Republicans in Congress to oppose Gateway, source says

President Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room

President Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House on March 1, 2018. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

President Donald Trump last week urged a key Republican in Congress to oppose funding for a new rail tunnel between Manhattan and New Jersey, an effort to block a top priority both for the region and for New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader.

Trump personally appealed to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) this week to target federal funding for the $30 billion Gateway Program that would build a tunnel into New York’s Penn Station to supplement two existing tunnels in need of repair, a source familiar with the conversation told Newsday.

By opposing what is considered one of the nation’s most important infrastructure projects, Trump is taking aim at Schumer, telling Republicans it makes no sense to give the Senate Democratic leader his top priority for his state at a time when he is blocking Trump’s nominees and agenda, The New York Times reported, citing a person with knowledge of the president’s thinking on the issue.

The thinking on Capitol Hill is that Trump could be using his opposition to the funding as a bargaining chip to get Schumer to agree to his infrastructure proposal, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the story.

Schumer said in a statement: “This project is vital to fifty million people in the northeast corridor and to our American economy, and politics shouldn’t get in the way.”

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also appealed to Trump.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he said in a statement.

“The President should do the right thing and stop playing politics with our transportation network, which is the lifeblood of the Northeast region’s economy,” Cuomo said.

The White House press office did not respond to a query. Ryan’s office also did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s plan would spend $200 billion freed up from other parts of the federal budget to leverage what White House officials say would be $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending.

The House included $900 million in potential funding for Gateway in a spending bill that it passed in September.

An amendment backed by 155 Republicans and four Democrats attempted, but failed, to strip the funding from the bill. The legislation has not been taken up in the Senate.

The Gateway project also has support from Republicans, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and others in Congress from the region. And after an Oval Office meeting last year, Schumer left saying Trump was on board on Gateway.

On Saturday morning, King urged Trump to set aside his clash with Schumer and fund Gateway.

“@POTUS Trump must keep his commitment to Gateway which he made in White House last September. Essential to New York & Northeast. Can’t let feud with Schumer hurt New York & United States. Bad enough we got screwed on tax bill,” King posted.

Schumer and other New York members of Congress said they had received a commitment in 2016 from the Obama administration to fund half the project and to lend much of the other half, which the states and affected authorities would pay back.

But in December, the Trump administration said the agreement was not a firm commitment, and despite a reassuring meeting between Trump and a New York delegation last year, has indicated that it will not provide the funds that New York and New Jersey say they need.

“While we certainly aren’t opposed to talking about Gateway, we’re not going to start the discussion of rebuilding our entire nation with a single — albeit large — project, especially not one where 90 percent of the benefits go to local transit riders,” a White House official told Newsday in an email last month.

And now, according to four officials familiar with the discussions, Trump has taken a personal interest in making sure no federal dollars flow to a project that is considered critical to his hometown’s long-term economic prosperity, The Times reported.

Trump delivered his message to Ryan on Wednesday during a meeting at the Capitol, three people familiar with the conversation said, according to the Post. Trump was on the Hill for a ceremony for the late Rev. Billy Graham, who lay in honor in the Rotunda. Ryan seemed surprised that Trump brought up the project in their conversation, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

Trump, who spent Friday night at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, is scheduled to speak Saturday afternoon to a Republican fundraiser for his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.

He will then return to Washington to attend the Gridiron Dinner, a performance by Washington journalists of songs and skits skewering Trump and other politicians.

While Trump and Schumer said they know how to deal with each as New Yorkers, they have clashed over many of Trump’s top priorities, including the tax cuts, repealing Obamacare, immigration and the Dreamers, and from the start of Trump’s term, confirmation of his appointees.

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