It’s usually a safe bet to rail against the bureaucracy in Washington, both parties do it against agencies they don’t like, such as Republicans planning to abolish the IRS, or Democrats calling to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). However, with the President’s announcement that he is mandating a pay freeze for federal civilian workers who were set to get a 2.9% raise in 2019 is causing some major headaches within his own party, particularly in swing districts.
As the Washington Examiner reports, Rep. Barbara Comstock, a vulnerable Republican in a Virginia district just outside Washington, DC, is raising serious opposition to Trump’s order:
Tens of thousands of federal employees live in Virginia, and Trump’s move to freeze their salaries, citing a federal bloated budget — though probably quite popular elsewhere — isn’t likely to go over well. For some Virginia House Republicans already under siege, it’s yet another challenge to overcome in the midterm elections.
“I strongly oppose eliminating the pay raise for civilian federal employees and will work with my colleagues to have the pay raise included in our appropriations,” Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock said in a strongly worded statement. She represents a suburban Washington, D.C., district in Northern Virginia.
“Our office opposes this and will be working with other offices next week on this issue,” added Republican Rep. Scott Taylor via Twitter. He represents a Southeastern Virginia seat with a major federal presence.
Comstock and Taylor find themselves at odds with Trump on yet another issue as they battle for re-election in swing seats. In 2016, the president lost Comstock’s 10th Congressional District by 10 percentage points, while pulling out a close victory of just 3.4 points in Scott’s 2nd Congressional District.
Inside Elections, a nonpartisan journal that handicaps congressional races, rates Comstock’s seat as “Tilt Democratic.” Taylor’s race is rated as “Lean Republican.” A Republican operative keeping a close tab on House races said Trump’s pay freeze isn’t helpful as the campaign clock approaches the crucial, post-Labor Day period.
In a lot of districts, this wouldn’t matter. It might even sound like a good political message since, after all, wages in the private sector haven’t kept up with wages in the public sector so why should federal civilian workers keep getting raises on the backs of taxpayers? That argument would play well in some parts of the country. However, in some districts, it’s politically toxic where there is a high concentration of federal workers, such as those in Virginia and Maryland surrounding DC.
The race in Virginia’s 10th district is one being watched nationally, it’s a seat that has been solidly in Republican hands since 1981 when Republican Frank Wolf got swept in under the coattails of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory. Wolf retired in 2014, and the GOP has continued to hold the seat with Barbara Comstock cruising to an easy 16-point win, then continuing to hold the seat in 2016, albeit with shrinking margins of only a 6-point win. Watching Ohio’s 12th district swing 10 points away from Republicans this year has incumbents like Comstock worried that their modest lead could evaporate in 2018.
Democrats see this seat as a prime pickup spot given how Virginia’s 10th district went for Hillary by 10 points in 2016 and is filled with federal workers and demographics in general which simply don’t favor Trump. Comstock is well aware of this and has been generally anti-Trump on some things, or tried to stay ambivalent toward him on others, while continuing to vote with mostly with his agenda. She’s walking a tightrope of trying to hold the district by staying away from Trump, but not push too hard lest she risk a backlash of Trump voters staying home.
If I had to guess, it wouldn’t shock me to see this Trump order on pay freezes get buried and/or reversed sometime soon after he gets an earful from some within his party about why he’s making their re-election efforts harder than they already are. Compare this to his call to have a government shutdown before the midterms over immigration and you may see the same pattern emerge.