President Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other lawmakers from New York and New Jersey will sit down at the White House on Thursday to discuss a transit project, among other infrastructure-related issues, that would connect the Garden and Empire States.
Their meeting will come just one day after the president sided with Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on a short-term extension of the debt limit, a move that flummoxed GOP leaders who hoped to secure backing from Trump for a much longer debt ceiling increase.
The White House requested the infrastructure meeting with lawmakers as "a result of a few things" that have occurred "over the last few months," a Democratic Senate aide told the Washington Examiner. Those issues include Senate Democrats' blockade of nominees for positions at the Department of Transportation.
But the biggest topic of discussion on Thursday is expected to be the Gateway project, a highly-anticipated plan to build a train under the Hudson River that will require a massive influx of federal funding to get off the ground.
Schumer has advocated for the transit project, which could cost up to $30 billion to complete. The New York Democrat is expected to be joined Thursday at the White House by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It was not immediately clear whether New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, was set to join the discussion.
Sen. Bob Menendez, New Jersey's senior Democrat, will not attend the meeting Thursday because he is facing a criminal trial for corruption and bribery. Neither the White House nor a Democratic Senate aide responded to questions about whether anyone would represent Menendez at the meeting.
House lawmakers tucked $900 million in federal funding for the Gateway project into a draft transportation spending bill in July. While technically not an "earmark," as such carve-outs for politicians' pet projects are no longer allowed in Congress, the special appropriation for Gateway drew criticism from some conservatives.
Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C. introduced an amendment to the transportation bill that would have freed up portions of the $900 million for other infrastructure projects. It failed on the House floor Wednesday evening, attracting just 159 votes.
The Department of Transportation — led by Elaine Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — withdrew from the board of the Gateway Program Development Corporation in July. The decision raised concerns among Gateway advocates the Trump administration was less interested in pursuing the transit project than the Obama administration, which had strongly backed it. A Democratic aide said the agency's move to leave the Gateway board would be a topic of discussion on Thursday.
Proponents of the transit rail say construction must begin as soon as possible because one of the two tubes that presently shuttle trains between New Jersey and New York sustained damage from Hurricane Sandy and will eventually require repairs that shut it down, creating a severe strain on the single tube that would remain open.
Trump has expressed interest in pursuing a massive infrastructure package that would jumpstart stalled transit projects around the country. Democrats, at the outset of the administration, signaled they may be open to bipartisan infrastructure legislation, but have shown less desire to work with Trump after the polarizing early months of his presidency.
Trump's decision this week to endorse the Democratic plan for handling the debt ceiling increase may provide an opening for both sides to move forward with talks about areas where they may agree.
His meeting with lawmakers from the states most interested in Gateway could serve as an olive branch, particularly to the three Democratic senators who are expected to join the president at the White House on Thursday.
Still, it is not clear to what extent the Trump White House supports federal funding for Gateway. Money for the project is expected to come from New York, New Jersey, the Department of Transportation, and Amtrak.
A White House spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.