“I almost never differ with President Trump, but in this case I do,” Stewart said in an emailed statement with a subject line noting a “rare break with Trump.”
“Federal employees in Virginia wake up early, face punishing traffic and work hard to serve their nation and support their families,” the statement said. “These workers need and deserve a pay raise.”
Trump on Thursday blocked a substantial pay increase that would have taken effect in January, although Congress could still pass a spending bill that includes a raise. The Senate previously approved a spending plan with a 1.9 percent raise, while the House did not.
The president’s move was immediately panned in the Washington region, home to about 15 percent of the federal workforce. Critical voices included U.S. Reps. Barbara Comstock and Scott Taylor, both vulnerable Republicans running for reelection in districts heavy with federal workers.
“We cannot balance the budget on the backs of our federal employees, and I will work with my House and Senate colleagues to keep the pay increase in our appropriations measures that we vote on in September,” Comstock, who has 35,500 federal workers in her Northern Virginia district, said Thursday.
“Our office opposes this and will be working with other offices next week on this issue,” tweeted Taylor, who represents a Virginia Beach-area district with a heavy military presence.
Richmond-area conservative Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) told CNBC, “We should seek ways to aggressively cut the budget, but removing promised raises from federal employees last minute is not the way to do it.”
Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, stood by Trump when leaked Access Hollywood footage showed him making lewd comments about women. He supported the president’s decision to assign blame to “both sides” for violence in the Charlottesville white nationalist rally, and to separate more than 2,600 migrant children from their parents at the southern border.
Stewart’s new support for a pay raise for federal workers marks a sharp reversal from March, when he slammed an omnibus bill that included the same 1.9 percent raise and said he hoped Trump would veto it.
The Old Dominion has been trending blue in recent years, and has become even more competitive since President Trump, who is unpopular in the state, took office. After Democrats swept in last year’s state races, Virginia has become a key battleground for control of the House.
Stewart’s opponent, former vice presidential nominee and incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine (D), is considered a heavy favorite to win this November.
In the race for an open congressional seat in Maryland that includes parts of Montgomery County, both candidates called for federal workers to get a pay raise.
“As someone who has worked in the federal government and with federal government employees all my career, I understand how dedicated they are to their jobs,” Republican Amie Hoeber tweeted Friday evening.
On Facebook, Democrat David Trone blasted Trump for “refusing to give a cost-of-living increase to hardworking federal employees — many of whom live in the Sixth District.”