Cao defeated former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who was embroiled in a federal corruption investigation. Jefferson is currently serving a 13-year prison sentence for bribery.

The hourlong film gives an unusually candid and intimate look at the lawyer and father of two’s time in office, as he struggles over whether to support President Obama’s healthcare reform bill and adjusts to life at the Capitol. 

Cao, 45, told ITK the biggest surprise for him was the level of partisanship in Washington. “When I came to the Hill, I was idealistic, and I still am. I felt we were there to be problem-solvers, but we weren’t.”

Cao said he was disappointed by what he considered skewed priorities: The goal in 2009 for the GOP was attaining the majority in the House, while retaining the majority was the main driver for the Democrats. 

“My perception of politics has somewhat changed,” Cao said. “The realistic aspect of politics — it’s all about party affiliation. It’s all about party-centric and oftentimes it might not be nation-centric. It’s not about what the country wants, but what that party wants.”

The documentary also goes inside Cao’s reelection bid in 2010, which he lost to Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.).   

These days, the former Jesuit seminarian is running his law practice and finishing up his doctorate in moral philosophy at Tulane University. He says there are some things he misses about political life, including serving his constituents and confronting the issues. But his one term in Washington didn’t leave him completely disenchanted. 

“I do miss my colleagues in the House … I believe that most of us there are there for the right reasons. And our main reason is love of this country. And most of the people that you don’t hear from are the problem-solvers, and they are there to try to do what’s best.”

He’s also not ruling out a return to politics. 

“Eventually I would hope to” make another run for public office. “I’m looking for the right time and the right opportunity, but as you know, victory is all about timing. It’s about the right moment.”

But even if he hits the campaign trail again, Cao insists he’s staying away from a caffeine fix. “I have a cup or two of coffee a day. But I don’t indulge drinking four or five cups per day like many of the members on the Hill,” he says.

“I’m a pretty balanced guy.”

“Mr. Cao Goes to Washington” premieres on PBS on Jan. 3 at 9 p.m. (EST).