After weeks of stalemate, Congress approved on Friday a measure to bring federal appointees and career civil servants to Washington in 2019 and sidetrack some of President Donald Trump’s agency changes, including his plans to cut both agency budgets and staff.
House Republicans still claim victory — even though the language overturning agency reorganization is not included in the bill.
Trump’s own appointees will have to testify about any role they may have had in executing his moves against the EPA and a Utah wildlife refuge. Trump’s own White House Counsel, Don McGahn, also likely will have to testify about whether he worked against the president’s interests in a lawsuit against his administration over a White House usher’s job for his daughter Ivanka Trump.
Rep. Jim Jordan, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, expects key ethics questions for Trump’s staff, especially given the list of administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who joined the president to serve in the military.
Jordan told CNN Friday that he’s also “staying tuned” to see whether Congress approves an official request from two senators for a probe into the ethics surrounding Carson.
The South Carolina Republican’s political activity has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks, prompting his critics in the Senate to open an inquiry into his financial interests and activities.
The move is designed to block moves by agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development and State Department to rewrite the country’s government structure — attempts that are backed by the president’s initial proclamations.
However, the backlash from Trump’s opponents on Capitol Hill signals an increased willingness to take on the new president’s reshaping of the federal government, especially as lawmakers prepare to contend with several expansive agencies in the run-up to midterm elections.
A vote on a bipartisan resolution to prohibit such wholesale agency cuts came within hours of the House approving the spending legislation, but an effort to strip out the language that would force federal officials and civil servants to leave their jobs late at night failed.
During debate on the House floor, Republican members argued that the small spending bill would halt major executive branch reforms with functions such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department and their employees, for example.
“This bill is only two pages long, but it’s the biggest change in the way we do business on Capitol Hill since the founding of our country,” Jordan said.
The No. 2 Democrat in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, argued that the measure was an “attack on their own employees” and the services they offer.
Lawmakers, however, did strike language that would have rescinded the National Park Service director’s job, shifting responsibility from outgoing President Barack Obama to President-elect Trump.
Sens. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, wrote to Congress on Thursday requesting an investigation into the financial assets of Carson, White House Counsel Don McGahn and the Trump family.
Carson, a former brain surgeon who served as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Obama administration, has come under criticism for his financial relationships and his role in a bidding war over his White House office — as well as ethics concerns surrounding a role in a company that works for the federal government.
A statement from Carson’s office on Thursday said his role was “consistent with Cabinet and presidential precedent and rules” and said that the company would leave his office on February 7 to avoid a conflict of interest with the department.
Officials in both the housing and health departments tell CNN their offices are now focused on getting a final memo from the White House regarding the ongoing staffing changes under the new administration.