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Rep. Tom Malinowski. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Malinowski: House Dems done going to Chao, Trump on transit

Lower chamber majority exerting pressure on DOT

By Nikita Biryukov, October 14 2019 11:43 am

Rep. Tom Malinowski said House Democrats have stopped trying to curry favor with President Donald Trump and his secretary of transportation to get federal funding for Gateway projects.

“I don’t think it depends on the secretary of transportation, and that’s the difference that we have made. I think the mistake that we were making in the last couple of years is we kept on sending people to the White House and the Department of Transportation saying ‘oh please, we have this really important project in New Jersey. Please help us,’ and we stopped doing that,” Malinowski said. “We’re just doing it.”

Last year, Democrats won a majority in the House of Representatives, giving them power they lacked during the first two years of Trump’s tenure.

They’ve used that power, Malinowski said, to exert pressure on the administration to push for movement on Gateway and the portal bridge, including in an appropriations bill passed earlier this year that would block the Department of Transportation from hiring more political appointees unless it cleared funds for projects like the Gateway Tunnel and Portal Bridge.

Gov. Phil Murphy, whom Malinowski joined Monday at an unrelated press conference on NJ Transit, said he’d seen increased progress on the Portal Bridge since Democrats took the House, adding that he was cautiously optimistic on Gateway despite his frustrations with the slow pace of the project.

Malinowski suggested that House Democrats could adopt a strategy not dissimilar to the administrations if Trump and Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary,

“The biggest federally-funded transportation project in the country is the Gateway Project. The second biggest planned federally-funded transportation project happens to be a bridge in Kentucky, and I very much look forward, when we have funded our project, going to the senior senator from Kentucky, when he is still there and saying ‘we love your bridge. We really want to help you out. We need a favor though,’ as the president likes to say.”

Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior senator.

Under her tenure, the DOT has favored transportation projects in more rural red states than it has in densely populated blue states like New Jersey.

Murphy declined to say whether he believed the Garden State’s transportation projects would have an easier time getting funded with Chao out of office, though he made clear that some states in middle America weren’t facing the same problems.

“I appreciate your asking that,” Murphy said when asked if New Jersey’s transit projects would have an easier time with Chao gone. “Certainly not in Kentucky.”

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