Congressman from southeastern Virginia grants interview as he prepares to leave office
Reporter’s Note: There has been discussion in the news media about gridlock in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate with regard to the control that senior members exert over recently elected freshmen members. We have heard that if you are newly elected, or have just a couple of terms under your belt, that the entire Congressional apparatus is controlled by the leadership of both Chambers and that new members have very little input into the legislative process.
With this in mind, we reached out to Congressman Scott Rigell, R-Va in order to ascertain the truth of this situation. The Congressman is serving his third and final term in the House of Representatives, so we felt that he would be able to answer our questions without the encumbrance of repercussion from his leadership.
Our questions were relatively short but Rigell’s answers were lengthy, providing background information and other details. For that reason, the answers seen here are brief recaps, and not the Congressman’s verbatim remarks.
QUESTION 1: You are serving your third and final term and leaving Congress at the end of this year. Why are you leaving Congress and was this your original plan?
When I ran for the House from Virginia’s Second District, there was one party rule in the House and Senate. I believe that Democrats love our country and they should have a seat at the table. But I was deeply troubled by the fiscal problems that we were facing so I decided to run and bring my business experience and strengths to Washington. I wanted to provide a check and balance system, which was lacking with Democrats in charge of all Legislative functions. Now, however, after three terms, like many other members, I am beginning to transition out. I never saw elective office as a long-term career. It is not how I am hardwired. I serve in a district that is heavily military and I am glad that I have been able to serve on the House Appropriations Committee.
In order to gain seniority and a Committee Chairmanship, I would have to lengthen my commitment to another six years so I decided that it was time for me to leave Congress and move on to another chapter in my life. In many respects, this was the intent of the framers of our Constitution when they envisioned citizen legislators who would go to Washington, do a job and then return home to their businesses. Careers were not intended and I share that view.
But, there is something to be gained by serving a longer-term for those whochoose to take that path. I do not want to disparage others but it is something that is not right for me. I have long believed that a minimum of two terms for a senator and six terms for a House member, equaling out that 12 years each, should be good enough. That is not for everyone and I understand that. It takes a couple of years just to learn your way around and the various legislative processes that you have to live by.
QUESTION 2: Senator Rubio has stated that he is not returning to the Senate at the end of his current term. He says that unless you have been in the Senate for a long time or have achieved Chairmanship of a Committee that you get nothing done. Is that your experience? Also, I had asked Senator Thom Tillis, R-NC. the same question but he downplayed the general perception that freshmen members are being told how to vote and expected to toe the party line. Do you feel that way?
It is true that there is an increase in authority if you are a subcommittee chairman or a chairman. On the one hand, there is a need for “fresh blood” and while some freshmen members may feel as though they are directed to vote in a certain way, that is not my personal experience.
QUESTION 3: You have taken some heat for opposing the contempt citation of Attorney General Eric Holder in the gunrunning scandal. Do you have any regrets as to how you voted?
I was one of two Republicans who did not vote for criminal contempt. Every member of the House voted for civil contempt, and while I was willing to hold him in contempt civilly, I did not believe that he should be held in contempt as a criminal matter. When this situation arose, I cleared my calendar and tried to listen to both sides of the argument. I had staffs from both sides, come into my office and to brief me on the facts. I asked Democratic Staff why I should not vote for criminal contempt and I asked Republican staff the same question in reverse. I felt that the vote was not about President Obama and I judge the situation strictly on the actions of the Attorney General.
The vote was about the question of whether the Attorney General complied with the subpoena for document production. I was trying to sort out the truth between these competing sides and claims. I considered that I would vote for civil contempt and if the documents as subpoenaed, were not provided in six months, then I would agree to vote for criminal contempt. I was on the floor at the time of the vote and the Republican leadership put the criminal vote first and the civil vote second. I felt at the time that I had made a principled, reasoned and well thought out case for how I arrived at my conclusion and I have no regrets.
I had another tough vote when the reelection of John Boehner for Speaker came to the floor. I was sure that I would be thrown off of the Appropriations Committee on account of the Eric Holder vote, but fortunately for me, that did not happen.
QUESTION 4: Pork barrel projects, otherwise known as earmarks, were supposed to be removed from the budgeting process. But in point of fact, it appears that these projects are on the rise compared to last year and the recently published ‘Pig Book’ details millions spent on wasteful spending. Don’t members of Congress realize that we cannot continue to buy votes with taxpayer money?
Spending has been reduced by billions from when I first came to office six years ago. I admit that many people do not know about this. These reductions have taken place on the discretionary side of the budget since so much of the budget for Medicare and Medicaid is mandatory. We are running the IRS, for example, at below 2008 levels. In fact, I think the Republican House went too far. The Congress cannot give directly to an area of the country. For example, I cannot authorize money directly to Virginia Beach, but money is appropriated to agencies with very little instruction and general guidance. Frankly, I think that what you refer to as “pork barrel spending” comes from the President and not very much from Congress.
QUESTION 5: When you first took over ownership of your business, Freedom Ford, you took a sabbatical for a few years and did some missionary work, before returning to the automobile dealership and then running for Congress. As you prepare to leave elective office, what plans do you have for your future?
I am interested in entrepreneurship in underprivileged communities. I have always been concerned about the disparity in household incomes including minority communities. I want to continue working on projects that will help us grow entrepreneurs out of ordinary citizens. Also, I am interested in correcting some of the dysfunction that we have in our country.
In conducting this interview, I believe Congressman Rigell is more of a moderate than he is a conservative. It is a good thing for a man of “means” to take a sabbatical from a successful business to perform missionary service. This shows a sense of compassion and a willingness to help others, which should be a good thing. His answer to the “Pork Barrel” question and the “Eric Holder” question, gave me a different take of this man from the image of himself that he portrays.
In agreeing to this interview, the congressman’s staff had the conversation limited to 14 minutes. In fact, we talked for nearly 30 minutes. At the time of the interview, a House Floor vote loomed. We certainly thank Congressman Rigell for his time and for his legislative service.