Only two Republicans voted against holding Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress yesterday, one of those being Rep. Scott Rigell, who represents the 2nd District of Virginia. While it may seem unbelievable to some, it comes as no surprise for those familiar with Rep. Rigell's lawmaking style. His actions yesterday put on display his growing reputation as an independent conservative leader.
As a recent Time profile piece mentions, Rep. Rigell is not your average freshman Republican. To begin with, he took Grover Norquist's controversial tax pledge--and then renounced it earlier this year. His reasoning was that such a partisan pledge would prevent Congress from passing revenue-neutral legislation.
With so much of the Republican platform tied to a commitment to block any attempts at instituting new taxes, Rep. Rigell chooses to take a brave stance: commit to compromise.
“I learned at Parris Island [Marine Corps basic training] that we weren’t black or white, from The Bronx or Florida, but that we were all green and we were all in this together. As a businessman, I learned that nothing happens unless you come to an agreement. I think we have a two, three-year window to straighten this out. I’m going to work on it until we do and then I’m going to go home.”
He avoids heavily partisan rhetoric, doesn't use "Obamacare" to describe the Affordable Care Act, and dislikes the term "Bush tax cuts".
Not surprisingly, his votes yesterday showed similar nuance. While Rep. Rigell voted against criminal contempt, he did vote for the civil contempt resolution. His reasoning is under attack today, most publicly on his Facebook page.
In an open letter response to constituents today, he wrote:
"I also believe we should use restraint to avoid constitutional showdowns. That, to me, includes the use of incremental sanctions, including, when warranted, criminal contempt charges. But if Congress can obtain the documents through a civil contempt citation, then why immediately choose the sanction of last resort: criminal contempt?"
His letter today matches his statement released after yesterday's votes:
“In the wisdom of our Founding Fathers, there is built-in tension among the three branches of our federal government. This tension was reflected in two votes that came to the House floor this afternoon. I believe in progressive discipline. Accordingly, and after a careful review of the facts, I voted against a bill to hold the Attorney General in criminal contempt of Congress. Later, I voted for a bill that authorizes the Oversight Committee to initiate or intervene in judicial proceedings and force the Attorney General to comply with what are very reasonable oversight requests from this Congress.” “In my view, the Attorney General has not served the President or the American people well. I believe he should resign. I am intent on pursuing the facts and gaining a full understanding of the Administration’s handling of the events leading to the Fast and Furious program, and as importantly, the conduct of the Administration in the months that followed.”
During an election year, many partisan lawmakers make compromising decisions in favor of reelection. It remains to be seen if the actions taken by Rep. Rigell will win or lose him votes. In our hyper-partisan political climate, it is refreshing to see a politician lead on principles not blindly as a member of a rigid club.
As one Facebook user on Rep. Rigell's page wrote today:
"We need 500 more like him on Capitol Hill. He's an independent thinker who does not march in lockstep with any rigid ideology or party line. Nor does he play politics with issues. He approaches issues in a thoughtful and pragmatic way and makes reasoned decisions backed by a thorough understanding of the issues."