President Trump threatening ‘vital’ Gateway Program by withholding federal funds, Schumer says

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday accused the Trump Administration of “playing politics” with the Gateway Program, following reports that the president has advised republican lawmakers to oppose funding the plan to replace the Hudson River rail tunnel on the verge of collapse.

“Gateway is vital to the New York economy, to millions of New York workers, to jobs and wages for 50 million Americans throughout the Northeast Corridor,” Schumer said at an unrelated news conference. “The president should stop playing politics.”

Schumer declined to discuss whether the $30 billion program, which has seen cost estimates rise over time, should be scaled back. Reports said Trump’s move was believed to be retaliation against Schumer, though the senator said that he wasn’t taking the news personally.

“Do your job. Do what’s the right thing for people. And this is very, very important to the economy of the entire Northeast,” Schumer said. “If we don’t build Gateway and the existing tunnel collapses, we could have a recession in New York and around the country. So you don’t play games with this.

“And we have Democrats and Republicans throughout the metropolitan area, throughout the whole northeast corridor, strongly supporting it,” he continued. “A lot of my Republican colleagues are just shocked.”

Sources have told The New York Times and The Washington Post that Trump urged House Speaker Paul Ryan this week to thwart the flow of federal dollars to the program, a project that will, in part, replace the 107-year-old Amtrak tunnel under the Hudson River that had been badly damaged during superstorm Sandy in 2012. The old tunnels would eventually be rehabilitated to double train capacity for its users, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.

Rail service between New Jersey and New York would be reduced by 75 percent if the existing tunnel were to fail before an overhaul, Amtrak estimates. But elected officials across the region have tried and failed to gain support for the project within the Trump administration — even as both New York and New Jersey have pledged to commit what they consider to be 50 percent of the funding for the tunnel overhaul.

Lawmakers from the two states believe they are fulfilling what was an Obama-era commitment for the states to split half of the project’s costs with the federal government. But a Senate committee hearing last Thursday, shortly before the news broke of Trump’s discussion with Ryan, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao took issue with the funds ponied up by the states as well as the idea that there was a formal funding agreement.

Questioned by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Chao said the Obama-era agreement was nothing more than a “sentence given at a political rally, no less” and said that the states’ commitments rely on federal loans that she doesn’t consider to be legitimate local funding.

“We’re not anxious for a fight on this. But for New York and New Jersey to consider funds — debt that we have given them — as part of their equity back to us, is something that we disagree with,” Chao said. “And that is where in our calculation, New York and New Jersey are putting in 5 percent, not 50 percent.”

Chao said the federal government’s position on the use of federal loans as part of state funding contributions was not new. But Booker disagreed. He asked for Chao to reconvene another meeting between the federal government and local representatives on the project.

“We should have a fair standard,” Booker said, referring to funding sources. “This would crush every area of our country if you shifted that.”

More from around NYC