While the political focus of the nation’s capital has been on the partial government shutdown which started on December 22 – a legislative fight which shows no signs of ending anytime soon – there was more news out of Washington, D.C. than just the question of whether the President will get any money out of the Congress for his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border.
As President Donald Trump gave up his planned 16 day stay at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida, the Congress went home for the holidays, making no real effort to reach agreement on how to end the funding lapse that has endangered the paychecks of an estimated 800,000 federal workers.
But there was more – here’s some of what happened during the holiday break:
1. Trump moves to freeze federal worker pay. At the same time that about 800,000 federal workers were unsure of when their next paycheck would arrive, because of a partial government shutdown, President Trump issued an executive order blocking a scheduled 1.9 percent pay raise for civilian federal workers, a move which drew scorn from both parties. “Congress must reject the President’s imprudent decision to cancel the percent pay increase for our valuable federal civilian employees,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH). “What a terrible way to ring in the new year as the President helps his billionaire buddies profit off the GOP tax scam,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA).
2. Trump tells whopper about military pay raise. During President Trump’s surprise Christmas visit to see U.S. troops deployed in Iraq, the President said the military should be thanking him for a large pay raise of 10 percent, which Mr. Trump said was the first pay raise for the military in more than ten years. “Make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent. Because it’s been a long time. It’s been more than 10 years. It’s been more than 10 years,” the President said. Except none of what the President said was true. Even the Pentagon has a web page showing the basic military pay raises over the last 11 years – ranging from a high of 3.9 percent in 2009 down to 1 percent in both 2014 and 2015. But every single year there has been a pay raise for the military for several decades. The pay raise for 2018 is 2.4 percent – not 10 percent as the President said in Iraq.
3. House GOP quietly ends Clinton email, Trump-Russia review. After a series of closed door hearings with former FBI Director James Comey and others, Republicans in the House quietly ended their investigation of how the FBI and Justice Department dealt with both the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server from her time as Secretary of State, and how the investigation developed into possible ties between the Trump Campaign and Russia during the 2016 elections. Instead of a report, GOP lawmakers issued a seven page letter last Friday night, basically asking Senate Republicans to keep investigating, saying there were “troubling facts” which need further explanation. But the letter issued no conclusions about actual wrongdoing, as Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) – who are both leaving Congress this week – said a fuller accounting is still needed. Democrats said it showed the GOP was using the investigation as a diversion from the Special Counsel probe.
4. Mystery subpoena case reaches U.S. Supreme Court. No one knows what the case, “In Re Grand Jury Subpoena” is about, but many experts believe it touches on the Russia investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller – and if that’s the case – one part of it is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts has accepted briefs from some involved in the case, which a federal appeals court said in a ruling touches on a foreign company that is owned by an unnamed foreign government. It’s not clear what this case is all about, what country is involved, what company, etc. But it’s not every day that the U.S. Supreme Court accepts secret briefs.
5. Trump ousts Defense Secretary two months early. After first announcing that Defense Secretary James Mattis – who resigned in protest over President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria, and reduce troops levels in Afghanistan – the President basically fired Mattis two days before Christmas, announcing on Twitter that Mattis would leave on New Year’s Eve. Mattis sent out a farewell message to the military on Monday which referenced the Civil War, urging Pentagon officials and the troops to defend the Constitution. Just as his resignation letter raised eyebrows about his differences with President Trump, so too did the Mattis “Farewell Message.” Mattis quoted a message from Lincoln to Grant: “Let nothing which is transpiring, change, hinder, or delay your military movements or plans.”