Republican: Many in GOP don’t live in political reality

Greg Nash

A House Republican lawmaker says many of his fellow GOP colleagues in Congress, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), don’t live in “political reality.” [WATCH VIDEO]

Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) said that shutting down the government “over a deep matter of principle” didn’t add up. He defected on a key vote during the shutdown, and called for a “clean” government-funding bill.

In his short stint on Capitol Hill, Rigell has not been shy in taking on both parties and outside groups. The second-term lawmaker co-sponsored a gun bill that is strongly opposed by gun rights groups, and led the charge in August against President Obama’s effort on military action in Syria. More recently, he challenged both parties on campaign reform, calling for sweeping changes to curb gerrymandering across the country.

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Politically, it makes sense for Rigell to play toward the middle. Obama narrowly won his district in 2012, making the wonky 53-year-old legislator a natural target in next year’s election.

In an hour-long interview, Rigell stressed the need for the parties to work together to achieve fiscal solvency and stability.

“Gridlock is not acceptable,” said Rigell, who represents the Virginia Beach area.

He is one of the few Republicans willing to raise taxes, but claims the mantle of a fiscal conservative, noting that he voted in favor of the Republican Study Committee’s budget blueprint.

“Revenues have to come up a bit because it’s a conservative principle that one generation pays for the goods or services that it benefits from,” Rigell said as he marked up a white board to explain his extensive calculation leading to the politically unpopular conclusion.

But politics factors into that equation, Rigell noted, as he tied the idea together with the word “r-e-a-l-i-t-y.”

Asked if Cruz recognizes political reality, Rigell calmly responded, “No.”

While some lawmakers are more optimistic about the fiscal battles looming early next year, Rigell is not among them.

He expresses disappointment with his party, but the thin legislator with salt-and-pepper hair keeps his tone measured.

“We can pass a bill with 233 Republicans, thump ourselves on the chest ... but nothing gets done,” Rigell said. “Going on without a solution in this Congress is not an option ... time is working against us.”

“I’ve used leverage in my business — it’s almost like a rattlesnake. You got to hold it just [so],” he continued. “It can get away from you. We’re at risk as a country because of the debt that we have.”

The longtime Ford dealership owner said there must be a clear end game in sight — and said he couldn’t see it on a government shutdown strategy over defunding ObamaCare.  

“I’ve got the fire in the belly to fight ... but there needs to be a viable path, and one that can be clearly articulated in our strategy — this is what was unclear to me,” the former Marine reservist explained of his decision to break from fellow Republicans.

On the morning of the shutdown, Rigell tweeted, “We fought the good fight. Time for a clean CR.” It was retweeted more than 300 times.

Two weeks into the shutdown standoff, Rigell was overheard by a Washington Post journalist saying as much in a “heated” discussion with GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.).

Saying that “tensions were high,” Rigell explained that he confronted the No. 4 ranked House Republican because “there was just a lack of clarity ... as to what exactly [was] the offer on the table and [was] it worth the pain being experienced?”

Rigell represents a district with one of the highest percentages of retired and active military personnel in the country. Many were hit in the pocketbooks during the partial government shutdown.

The outspoken lawmaker wants to find a solution and take action now, he said, not sit around waiting for the next presidential election when a GOP victory could tilt the nation’s capital back to the Republicans.

Unlike other GOP centrists in the House, Rigell embraces opportunities to appear on  media that “leans left,” including MSNBC as he characterized it.

Soon after the shutdown started, he appeared on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

He also agreed to an interview with Samantha Bee of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” an especially risky move for a swing-district lawmaker.

Bee’s satirical antics — clucking like a chicken, holding her breath to the point of fainting and rising with a fake head wound — couldn’t faze a deadpan Rigell, who calmly answered her questions on his opposition to the shutdown.  

In February, Rigell attracted barbs from the right for flying on Air Force One with Obama. Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) called Rigell “a very cheap date” on Twitter, saying Obama’s goal was to convince the GOP member to back higher taxes.

Rigell signed the ATR pledge on taxes, but has since disavowed it.

Earlier this year, the Virginia Republican attracted a slew of criticism on the right by co-sponsoring a bill on gun trafficking.

The lifetime National Rifle Association member said he was “stunned” by the “false and vicious” attacks “from the hard right.”

But he said he was pleasantly surprised when 140 lawmakers from both parties signed onto a letter urging Obama to “slow down” on getting the U.S. involved in a military conflict with Syria.

The administration subsequently backed down.

Now, he’s spoiling for more. He has launched an almost impossible fight on gerrymandering.

“I don’t see the members who come from districts who are clearly — you could say gerrymandered — they are not the problem. But the process by which maybe that district was drawn is the problem,” Rigell said, acknowledging that solving this dilemma is a “long-term challenge.”

Rigell said he has reached across the aisle to discuss the matter with Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), a leader in the Golden State’s redistricting process.

Asked if he would be willing to work with the White House on the issue, Rigell smiled and said, “Certainly.”