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Exit Interview: Rep. Scott Rigell

Virginia Republican says leverage recess to pass appropriations bills on time

Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell is looking forward to ditching his suits and spending more time outdoors. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell is looking forward to ditching his suits and spending more time outdoors. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In January, 26 House members will not be returning to Congress. Some of them will return to their home districts for good while some will stay on in Washington for other jobs or to pursue another office. HOH asked several of them to reflect on their political careers and offer some advice and insight for the future.

Virginia Republican Rep. Scott Rigell, 56, was first elected in 2010. He announced in January that he will retire at the end of this congressional term, his third.

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Q: What will you miss most about being in Congress?

A: I will absolutely miss my little happy band of warriors in 418 [Cannon] and in the District. We’ve been through so much and we have worked through, as a team, a series of really significant changes that are facing our country. And in this room, even though I’m 1/435th of the whole organization on the House side, what we think and say and do matters.

I’m going to miss having to respond and really do critical thinking about where we go as a nation to address the challenges that are facing us and also to leverage our opportunities.

Q: What do you think the first thing you’re going to do back home in your district — out of office — will be?

A: I’m gonna put these suits far, far away and I’m just going to spend more time outdoors, especially on the water — start rowing.

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Q: If you could change one thing about Congress what would it be?

A:  We work six days a week — like I did in my business — until all 12 appropriations bills are passed because leadership has no real influence over members, ultimately, because if you are cast out by leadership, you become an immediate hero.

They don’t have earmarks anymore. The way to influence members is if they said, “Look, we will not go on an August recess, we will be working Monday through Saturday and we’re going to be here.” Above all else, the members like their calendar, so you leverage it. I’m not saying it will be perfect, but I think it will really raise the commitment to advancing those 12 bills. Something would give; we made it too easy to walk away from this place. The calendar doesn’t reflect the challenges facing our country.

Rigell shortly after being elected to Congress in 2010. (CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rigell shortly after being elected to Congress in 2010. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

Q: What do you think is the most memorable moment you’ve had in Congress?

A:  The one that had the most impact to me, that demonstrated that an individual member can have a disproportionate impact, was when I was in the (White House) Situation Room (in 2013). Vice President (Joseph R.) Biden was at the table and the president was on the cusp of engaging Syria militarily the first time. I, along with California Rep. Barbara Lee, led an initiative — that got massive coverage and it was the most intense media week for this office, by far — to demand that the president needed to come seek and receive the Authorization for Use of Military Force.

Our leadership was saying, “He needs to tell us what he’s doing.” And I said, “That’s not what we need. We don’t need an explanation.” I believe that any president has to come before this body and have that debate and we must authorize. Sen. Tim Kaine and I now have mirror legislation, it’s the only bipartisan, bicameral, AUMF out there.

But, on a Thursday, they invited me over there — there’s only about four of us in the room — and Biden said, “Oh, Congressman — I know about your letter. I agree.” And they never said that publicly. And it kind of hit me. There was a moment of, I’m just a regular American and this wasn’t on the bucket list of life.

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