Members of Congress starting to chime in on President’s recent EO

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Something or other is going to happen on stimulus relief, but not before the full Senate vote on the Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Closer to home, some members of Congress are starting to make noise about the president’s infamous order, creating that new civil service schedule that pushes career employees to political. For more details, Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke to WTOP’s Capitol Hill correspondent, Mitchell Miller.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Mitchell, let’s start with the executive order. Have some Congressmen taken notice because our story has certainly gone, pardon the pun, viral — but what’s going on on the Hill with respect to that?

Mitchell Miller: Right. I know you guys have done a lot of reporting on this. This is a new executive order that could have potentially impact tens of thousands of career federal workers as you know, it would essentially allow agency heads to have more flexibility in hiring and firing. A new schedule of excepted service is known as Schedule F, exactly which long term federal employees are included is still being sorted out. The order does not apply to the Senior Executive Service or Schedule A attorneys, we know that. The Trump Administration says it basically just takes too long to get poor performers and people that they don’t think are doing the job that they think they should be doing out quickly enough. Obviously, it’s getting a lot of major pushback from the unions and the Democratic lawmakers on the Hill here. The American Federation of government employees has called the executive order the most profound undermining of the civil service in our lifetimes. So pretty strong language there. And then you have members of Congress, including Virginia Congressman Don Beyer, the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, also talking about maybe there is something they can do legislatively to try to react to this. Yeah, this came out last week, and a lot of people were really trying to figure out exactly what it meant as soon as it was issued by the Trump administration, this executive order. So now, it’s basically going through a sorting out period where we’re just going to have to see exactly who it affects, how it affects certain long term federal employees. And then it would likely go into effect after a review period early in the next year, right around the time of the inauguration.

Tom Temin: So there’s no legislation at this point that would try to block it. They don’t have time and it’s just hard to mount something like that at this point, I guess.

Mitchell Miller: Right. But you are probably going to see a lot of the Democratic lawmakers, especially from the Washington area, have a lot of constituents in the federal workforce — I think they’re going to be coalescing around this and trying to determine what their strategy is along with the unions to try to see how this can either be altered or delayed. They may look, frankly, the elections coming up and is it going to go into effect in the same way if Joe Biden were to win the election, as opposed to the president being reelected? So we’ll just have to see how it plays out.

Tom Temin: I mean, the question that has come up, frankly, is, if this is a tool for soaking the bureaucracy with your kind of people, maybe that’s a lever Joe Biden would want to have, if he gets elected.

Mitchell Miller: Right. My understanding is that because it’s an executive order, Joe Biden could accept what’s in the executive order, of course, and then just carry it out, as he would see fit. Of course, the idea would be that any incoming administration would want to get the people that they want in there. And that there is, let’s face it, some deadwood in certain parts of the government, and they say that they need the tools to get these people out. Obviously, on the flip side, a lot of federal workers, understandably, very concerned about this, that this could be a politicized faction of the federal workforce that people may say, well we just want our political people in there and that you could get political hacks in there as opposed to people who have long term service and really know what they’re doing in those agencies

Tom Temin: (Jokingly) Well, luckily, no president has yet ever put in a political hack in a an appointed position. So maybe we can hold that off for a few more years. And what else is on the agenda now that there is some little bit of ice melt maybe I guess you could say with respect to stimulus?

Mitchell Miller: That’s a good way to put it in. And I think carrying on that metaphor, I think we’ve been melting the ice since the middle of the summer, actually, as these talks have just gone on over and over again. I would have to say even by congressional standards, this has been a very different and frankly a bit bizarre dynamic related to reaching agreement on coronavirus relief. You have the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who has not spoken with President Trump in more than a year negotiating with his Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. And day after day seemingly getting closer and closer to an agreement of close to $2 trillion. They’ve closed this gap keep trying to say optimistic things. But as you know, top Senate Republicans have made it clear they don’t want this deal that the President wants. So if a deal is eventually reached, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he’ll consider it is the words he’s used. But frankly he doesn’t want to come to the floor before the election, because that would put many in his Senate caucus in a tough spot for carrying out a vote on a measure they think is frankly bloated with too many things that the Democrats want. So I think it’s likely this ice melt is going to continue. Lawmakers are basically going to keep trying to show they’re doing something, something on behalf of the millions of Americans who are still out of work, for many of the small businesses that are still struggling. We’ve had tens of thousands of small businesses go out of business. And as witnessed by the two much smaller Senate bills offered up by Republicans last week that were blocked by the Democrats. I think you’re going to continue to try to see these efforts to show that the lawmakers are at least doing something on behalf of the American people, even if it doesn’t reach results.

Tom Temin: And what is the schedule for the vote on the Supreme Court nominee now that has passed the Judiciary Committee last week?

Mitchell Miller: Right. Well, as you know, the whole debate over the Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett has basically crowded out a lot of these other developments in connection with coronavirus relief. But so the schedule now is pretty well set. Over the weekend, everything was moved forward on the Senate side in connection with the nomination. And so now we’re looking at a final vote tonight for the confirmation of any Amy Coney Barrett. This would be the third judge that would be confirmed under President Trump. So this would be a pretty significant development, obviously. And then once that vote takes place, they will waste no time and swearing her in so she will be sworn in basically a week before the election. And that, of course, as you know, is very much opposed by Democrats. But there’s really nothing they can do at this point. There’s been a variety of delay tactics. But ultimately, this came to be and the Senate Republicans are proud of their accomplishment.

Tom Temin: And what happens should the Senate flip to the Democratic side? What could we see at that moment?

Mitchell Miller: Well, that would be a really interesting thing, wouldn’t it? We have so many of these close races where the margin literally could be maybe a vote, or it could even be 50/50. But if it does flip, then I think what you’re going to see is a lot of efforts on behalf of Democrats to reverse some of the things that are already underway. Now we’ll have to see how things play out legally in the high court. Of course, we have the Affordable Care Act coming up on a November 10 case, presumably the new justice Amy Coney Barrett would be part of the court. Obviously a lot of nervousness among Democrats about whether that would be somehow rescinded. So I think you’re already going to see, if it does change hands, you’re going to see a lot of mobilization on health care issues from Democrats. And then there will be more broadly a lot of pressure to see what is going to happen on the left wing of the party and whether or not some of these initiatives that many House Democrats have been pushing for a long time related to the environment, related to the Green New Deal, etc. — if there will be more pressure on that. But to get it back to the the coronavirus relief. It’s really a big question mark, frankly, because we’re going to go into this lame duck session and many of these Senate races actually could still be under challenge, under legal challenges, especially if they’re close. So we might be in this kind of frozen period here, even more so than we usually are in a lame duck. And that will kind of cause us to be waiting to figure out exactly which way this big ship is going to be turning one way or the other politically.

Tom Temin: Well, I guess we can all sit home and eat the chocolate that we didn’t hand out for Halloween because none of the kids came by.

Mitchell Miller: That’s right.

Tom Temin: Mitchell Miller is Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP. Thanks so much.

Mitchell Miller: You bet.

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