President Donald Trump has threatened to veto a massive omnibus spending package if it includes money for the Gateway tunnel project in New York City, according to multiple sources.
Trump's threat has complicated the outlook for the $1 trillion-plus spending measure, which Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) want to pass before government funding runs out on March 23.
While it is highly unusual for a Republican president to threaten a veto on a funding bill coming from a GOP-run Congress — and risking a potential government shutdown — Trump is adamant in his opposition to the federal government underwriting the project, the sources said.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) has been leading the effort to insert Gateway funding in the omnibus. Frelinghuysen, who is retiring this year, wants to include $900 million or more in the bill.
But he faces opposition from some House GOP conservatives, who believe that the estimated $30 billion price tag is too high. Under an agreement worked out by the Obama administration, New York and New Jersey would pay half the cost, with the federal government picking up the rest.
Senate Republicans have also not agreed to Frelinghuysen’s demands. And the White House has no love for the New Jersey Republican, who voted against the tax-cut bill, Trump's major legislative accomplishment.
“This is all Trump personally,” said a GOP source on Capitol Hill. “He is not going to go for any Gateway [funding].”
Yet a number of House Republicans — including members of the New York and New Jersey delegations, as well as appropriators — strongly back Frelinghuysen’s efforts, despite Trump’s opposition. The proposed third rail tunnel between Manhattan and New Jersey would be used by thousands of commuters every day.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) called any White House effort to squash the Gateway money “eleventh hour B.S.”
The New York Republican said Trump was emphatic about his support for the bridge when he met several months ago with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other Empire State lawmakers. And he blasted Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao for accusing Gateway backers of “spinning” the president’s words.
“We definitely had the commitment. It was just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s,” King said of Trump backing Gateway. “The president was completing Schumer’s sentences and my sentences, and he even got after Cuomo for not asking for more money for JFK airport!"
King — who said he would vote against the omnibus if the Gateway money isn’t included — said the White House was again knifing New Yorkers, after restricting the state and local tax deduction in their tax bill. “They screwed us on tax cut and now it’s a double slap.”
A key point of emphasis for Trump is that Gateway is a high priority for Schumer. Trump may be using his opposition to Gateway to leverage funding for his other priorities in the omnibus, including the border wall between the United States and Mexico.
At that September meeting with the New York-area delegation, Trump kept Schumer behind for a private discussion during which he kept trying to trade Gateway funding for border wall funding, according to a source with direct knowledge of the conversation.
Schumer slammed the White House for “playing politics” with one of the most high-profile infrastructure projects in the country.
“This is vitally important to the northeast corridor and to the entire U.S. economy,” Schumer said in a statement to POLITICO. “Jobs, income, and growth are all at stake. No one should be playing politics with it.”
Rachael Bade contributed to this report.