Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) clashed with President Trump at the White House Tuesday over his desire to shut down the government to force a compromise on legislation to curtail MS-13.
During a meeting with law enforcement and community leaders about the violent street gang, Comstock spoke up to oppose a shutdown. Her northern Virginia district is home to tens of thousands of federal workers and she lives near the CIA headquarters.
“We don’t need a government shutdown on this,” she said, according to video of the exchange. “I think both sides have learned that a government shutdown was bad, it wasn’t good for them. And we do have bipartisan support on these things. And I think we need to talk about these cases that are going on.”
Trump interrupted her to insist Democrats were not in agreement.
“You can say what you want,” he said. “We’re not getting support from the Democrats on this legislation.”
Speaking over him, Comstock continued to make her case. She said her bill, which calls for deporting suspected gang members, should go to the Senate for a vote.
But Trump ended the exchange with a curt “Thanks, Barbara,” and looked away.
Moments earlier, Trump said he would “love to see a shutdown” if Democrats won’t cooperate, according to the pool report.
In a phone interview after the meeting, Comstock said the press has overblown what she called “a polite conversation” about policy.
She was trying to persuade Trump that there would be Democratic support in the Senate for her bill to deport suspected gang members, which has already passed the House. Another bill she sponsored to give more funding to regional anti-gang task forces has passed committee.
“We should be able to get that on the president’s desk,” she said. “Just get a senator to put it through over there and it would address one of the key problems that we were talking about today.”
The back and forth is the first instance of Comstock challenging Trump face to face, on camera.
Comstock, who is seeking re-election to a third term in what could be one of the nation’s most competitive mid-term races, has walked a delicate line as a Republican in a swing district carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In 2017, voters in her district elected Gov. Ralph Northam and turned several state legislative seats blue. Nine Democrats, many of them inspired by Trump’s election and the Women’s March, are competing for the nomination to challenge her in November.
Comstock outperformed Trump by 16 points to win a second term. During the campaign she called for him to drop out of the race after the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which he was heard bragging about groping women.
In Congress, she broke with Trump when she voted against legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, opposed the latest government shutdown and rebuked politicians accused of sexual misconduct, including Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Her actions did not go far enough for many Democrats who point out Comstock votes with her Republican colleagues and the Trump administration most of the time.
Comstock said her exchange with Trump has nothing to do with politics, but observers said the moment may boost her standing among voters turned off by the president.
“Her political life is on the line this year. For one reason: Donald J. Trump,” said Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University,
The minute-long video paints her as an independent-minded Republican standing up to a president of the same party for the sake of her constituents, he said.
“That’s worth more than all of the political ads she’s going to be paying for,” he said.