Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney

Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney: Trump Is Playing Politics With Gateway Tunnel

March 06, 2018 - 5:14 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- In a heated exchange during a House committee hearing Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-New York) went back and forth over President Donald Trump’s proposal to kill funding for the Gateway Tunnel Project.

“My question was, is it true?” Maloney asked of the president’s reported plan.

“It probably is,” Chao replied.

“And can you tell us why the president is seeking to block funding?” Maloney continued.

“I think you need to ask the White House on that, but I have already said…” Chao said.

“Secretary Chao, excuse me,” Maloney said.

“I will be more than glad to explain it if you let me,” Chao retorted.

Maloney joined WCBS 880’s Steve Scott and Michael Wallace by phone Tuesday, and said he appreciated Chao’s candor.

“I give her credit for being honest. I mean, I asked her point blank, ‘Is the President of the United States personally intervening with the speaker – Speaker Paul Ryan – to kill the Gateway Project, and she said yes, quote-unquote, and that is, you know, in Washington they call when somebody says the truth – and that is the truth,” Maloney said. “We know the president has intervened with the speaker to kill the most important transportation project in the country, let alone in New York, and it’s outrageous.”

But Maloney said he was put off by the fact that even though she is Transportation Secretary and should be able to answer questions about the subject, Chao referred his question about the Gateway Tunnel funding to the White House.

“(It’s) just another example of how, you know, in the Trump era, you can’t ask the Secretary of Transportation about a key transportation project because only Donald Trump knows what he’s doing and right now, he’s killing New York,” Maloney said.

Maloney said he believes Trump wants to block funding to the Gateway Project as a political power play.

“What he’s doing, if I had to guess, is that he is – like he does on anything, whether it’s the dreamers, or whether it’s, you know, guns, he is creating something that you’ve got to buy back. And so if I had to guess, he’s trying to pressure Senator (Charles) Schumer and others to make concessions maybe elsewhere on things that he cares about,” he said. “That’s the best explanation I can give.”

But Maloney added that using the Gateway Tunnel funding as a political pawn has real-life economic effects.

“But if you look at what the practical effect is, is that you’re taking a key infrastructure project that would mean tens of thousands of jobs for people locally – good jobs, by the way, paying $70,000 or more a year – plus hundreds of billions of dollars of economic stimulus for the region, plus critical improvements to our infrastructure and flow of traffic and commuting and everything else, and you’re delaying it by years every time you screw around like this,” Maloney said.

He said he and the rest of the New York congressional delegation will not concede the battle for the tunnel.

“We’re not going to take no for an answer on this. This project is not a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have. This is a critical, critical piece of the future economic growth or New York and for the whole region, and we need it, and we’re going to stay at it until we get it,” Maloney said. “I’d like to think even the president must know that, but he’s playing a game right now and it’s a dangerous one.”

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that during a ceremony for the Rev. Billy Graham, the president told House Speaker Paul Ryan that he does not want federal dollars going to the Gateway Tunnel project.

Senate Minority Leader Schumer himself said this past Sunday that failure to fund and build the new tunnel could result in calamity.

“If we don’t build Gateway and the existing tunnel collapses, we could have a recession in New York and around the country,” Schumer said. “So you don’t play games with this.”

Schumer also emphasized Sunday that the Gateway Tunnel project has bipartisan support.

“We have Democrats and Republicans throughout the metropolitan area; throughout the whole Northeast Corridor, strongly supporting it,” Schumer said. “A lot of my Republican colleagues are just shocked.”

The project is a massive $30 billion plan that is highlighted by the building of a new rail tunnel under the Hudson. It would double train capacity in and out of Penn Station, and allow for high speed rail in the region.

Most importantly, it would guard against the potential disaster of the current aging tunnels from completely shutting down rail service in the area if those tunnels became unusable.