President Trump’s recent threats to shut down the federal government over border security could endanger Republicans seeking reelection this year, and especially Rep. Barbara Comstock, whose Northern Virginia district is home to tens of thousands of federal workers.
Trump on Tuesday renewed his call for a government shutdown if Congress can’t agree to limits on immigration, citing revised statistics from the Mexican government that found the country’s homicide rate had reached its highest level since 1990.
Comstock, who is facing a tough reelection battle, said she supports Trump’s border wall and almost always votes with her party, but the two-term congresswoman has drawn the line on government shutdowns.
She clashed publicly with Trump over the issue earlier this year in a televised White House meeting when he suggested a shutdown would be a good way to force a compromise to curtail the criminal street gang MS-13.
“As I said to the President back in February at the White House, I believe government shutdowns don’t work and are bad policy,” Comstock said in a statement this week.
“Shutdowns hurt our hard-working federal employees and federal contractors who do the important work on our national security, border security, working with our military, ICE agents, veterans, medical researchers and more,” she said.
Democrats consider Comstock among the most vulnerable Republicans in the House this year because Trump lost her district by 10 percentage points in 2016, and polls show he remains deeply unpopular in the Washington suburbs she represents.
In seeking a third term, Comstock has tried to separate herself from Trump enough to win anti-Trump Republicans and independents without losing her conservative base.
She called early versions of his entry ban unconstitutional and, after the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape was made public in October 2016, she said then-
candidate Trump should drop out of the race.
But aside from voting against legislation backed by Trump that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act, Comstock has an almost perfect record of voting with the GOP.
During the GOP primary in the spring, Comstock boasted in mailers to Republican voters than she is “pro-border wall to stop illegal immigration,” “pro-life” and “pro-2nd Amendment.”
Her Democratic challenger, state Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton (D-Loudoun), says despite Comstock’s selective challenges to Trump, she’s too conservative for the district.
“Barbara Comstock is failing our district,” Wexton said in a statement. “Her support for this reckless border wall gives Trump the green light to put federal workers and our economy at risk. If Trump follows through on this threat, the responsibility for any shutdown lies with Barbara Comstock.”
Only a handful of congressional districts have more federal workers than Comstock’s 10th District, and all are within Virginia and Maryland, according to census data.
She represents about 35,500 federal workers, and that doesn’t include contractors and others whose livelihoods depend on the government. Unlike federal employees, contractors generally are not reimbursed for lost income after a shutdown.
As a former Capitol Hill staffer, Justice Department official and GOP operative whose McLean home is not far from CIA headquarters, Comstock is deeply entrenched in Washington, which Trump calls “the swamp.”
“Many of her constituents are the swamp people,” said Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. “Trump’s anti-government ‘drain the swamp’ rhetoric doesn’t play well with them, and understandably so.”
Comstock likes to say she is the only member of Congress in the D.C. region who has not voted for a shutdown, referring to the three-day shutdown in January that took place over an impasse on protections for young, undocumented immigrants.
At the time, the GOP-controlled House voted mostly on party lines to keep the government open for a month as part of a compromise with the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus.
Virginia Reps. Gerald E. Connolly and Don Beyer, both Democrats, and Republican Rep. Rob Wittman voted against the measure, which the Senate then rejected, leading to the shutdown. Wittman represents about 46,900 federal workers; Connolly 51,900; and Beyer 81,100 — the most of any district in the nation — according to census data.
“Many of us in the capital region felt the only leverage we had to protect the dreamers . . . was to vote no on the appropriations bill to keep the government open,” Beyer said, referring to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as infants or children. “So, we had the weekend shutdown and decided it wasn’t best strategy.”
While Republican leaders in Congress say they will not allow another government shutdown, Trump tweeted on Tuesday: “I don’t care what the political ramifications are, our immigration laws and border security have been a complete and total disaster for decades, and there is no way that the Democrats will allow it to be fixed without a Government Shutdown . . . ”
Government funding expires midnight Sept. 30.