AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Virginia Republican Scott Rigell was elected to the House of Republicans in the Tea Party wave of 2010, but in recent days, he's argued for compromise. When I reached Congressman Rigell earlier today, he was already certain how he'd vote on this Senate deal.
REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT RIGELL: I am going to vote for it. I was one who called early on to reopen the government on October the 1st, although I really don't believe that the Affordable Care Act - what I now call the Unaffordable Care Act - is best for our country, it was also clear to me that it was not a strategy starting on October the 1st that I thought would lead to a good result.
So I told my staff that we're not going to support this and I called for a clean continuing resolution on day one.
CORNISH: You had tweeted earlier this month: We fought the good fight. Time for a clean CR, essentially referring to a bill to fund the government without any stipulations related to, say, the healthcare law.
RIGELL: That's correct.
CORNISH: But what do you say to conservatives who might say, look, you didn't fight the good fight, that this is caving in?
RIGELL: Well, I'd say this: My math is pretty good and I can count votes and that's what's so critical up here. You know, our nation is at a point of great tension. Those who believe strongly in the Affordable Care Act, you know, are very passionate about it, more often than not. And those of us who feel differently, you know, there's great passion on our side as well.
But I am a businessman in a season of public service. This is my first elected office and I just assessed not only the fiscal reality of the situation, but the political reality of it. I think that we can, you know, live to fight another day, as is said very often up here in Washington, and that we can come together to the extent that's possible and reform that bill. We'll try to do what we can. But we've got to have votes to get this done and that's, to me, was just a sober assessment of our political situation.
CORNISH: Now, it's one thing to sort of go against maybe your colleagues, but what is it like selling this back in your district? It sounds like you're essentially setting yourself up for a primary challenge.
RIGELL: Oh, well, I have one already and that's all right. You know, if the 2nd District wants to send someone up to represent them, then I'll go back to what I was doing. And I'm not being flippant about it because I'm working very hard to have the privilege to return because I believe the ideas that I'm advocating for are best for our country.
But I share with my staff often: serve without fear. We will serve without fear and leave without regret and so far, look, I've made mistakes. Everybody does. But I look back and I feel good about our service and I think we've elevated the level of civility for example. I tell people, look, civility's not weakness and...
CORNISH: Elevated civility in what context? Some people might not be familiar with that?
RIGELL: Well, I'll give you an example. I think that fellow who spoke on The Mall the other day and said those really horrific things about the president ought to come down figuratively with his hands up out of the White House. I mean, I was asked by Wolf Blitzer about this and I just felt this heat come over my face because I had a visceral reaction to it because this is harmful to our country.
You know, I was raised by an Iwo Jima Marine. He's still doing great at age 90, you know. I was raised in a yes-sir, no-sir home. Look, it's President Obama in my home, in the workplace, in my office and I am a Republican. Look, that is not weakness. That is just modeling the kind of civics and public behavior that we want exhibited by my Democratic friends when one day we have a Republican president.
Civility is part of that essential thread that holds our country together. Principled compromise is another one. If there's not some degree of compromise up here, it's like trying to run an engine without oil. You can do it for a few minutes, you overheat and you're in a tough spot. So we need to, I think, rediscover as Americans what it means to engage thoughtfully in civic life and how to learn how to govern again.
CORNISH: Lastly, Congressman, this new legislation funds the government through mid January, averts a default through to February...
RIGELL: 7, yes.
CORNISH: ...are we going to be here again in those months having this same exact conversation?
RIGELL: It's possible. And I wish I didn't have to share that with you now. We can't allow members of Congress, House or Senate, to get away with saying we ought to be. We ought to be. No. We need say to every member, what is your plan, either one you've come up with or one you support that's been introduced by another member? That's really the question the must be answered in this hour.
I really believe that.
CORNISH: Virginia Republican, Congressman Scott Rigell, thank you so much for speaking with us.
RIGELL: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.