Rep. Scott Rigell, Republican of Virginia, is under fire from some conservative activists for daring to join President Barack Obama at an event near his southeastern Virginia district early Wednesday, where Obama called for reducing the deficit in part by raising taxes.
Rigell, whose district is home to more military personnel than any other in the nation, is aware that the deep cuts in military spending set to kick in on March 1 in the event of a sequester would be devastating to his constituents. But some tea party Republicans seem to believe putting his constituents before Washington politics makes him a traitor.
Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist has already publicly called Rigell “a very cheap date” for flying with the president on Air Force One to the event. Meanwhile, the founder of the Hampton Roads Tea Party in Virginia told the National Journal it is “much more likely” Rigell will face a primary challenge next year since he is one of a number of Republicans “turning their backs on what got them elected in the first place. “
Rigell, for his part, had already raised the ire of some for his consistent record of bipartisanship: He voted to raise the debt ceiling, disavowed Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, and has partnered with Democrats to endorse gun control legislation.
In an interview with National Journal after Wednesday’s event, Rigell denied that meeting with Obama was a sign of him “turning his back” on his electorate.
“If I have the opportunity to look the president in the eye in his role as commander-in-chief … my responsibilities to my district compel me to do so,” Rigell said. “How in the world can I face someone who works at Newport News Shipbuilding and rises at 5 a.m. with their lunchbox thinking they could be laid off and military readiness affected because of the dysfunction of this place?”
Rigell added that he has asked Obama to offer alternative spending cuts as a means of addressing the federal debt, but is “disappointed” in the president’s failure to do so. Still, he said it is unwise for his GOP colleagues to stubbornly object to any budget deal that would include “one more dollar” of revenue.
The Virginia congressman isn’t the only Republican facing backlash for crossing the partisan divide.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was reportedly snubbed from this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, a premier event for conservative politicians, for attacking GOP lawmakers in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Christie made his first mistake when he praised Obama’s comprehensive response to the superstorm, which devastated dozens of New Jersey communities, including the Jersey Shore. The second came when the outspoken governor in January said it was “disappointing and disgusting” to see House Republicans stall on scheduling a federal aid relief bill that would assist the victims of the storm.
Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, told the Wall Street Journal that Christie’s critical rhetoric against congressional Republicans' blocking the aid bill was a dealbreaker.
“[Christie] made it very hard for Republicans in the Congress at a time when we were trying to deal with fiscal restraint,” Cardenas said.