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How a congressional freshman is learning to balance people and party

Freshman GOP Congressman Denver Riggleman is now four months into his new job. Between the government shutdown and hearings over the Mueller report, he’s learning to balance life on the Hill with the needs of his Virginia constituents. Lisa Desjardins caught up with Riggleman at home in Nelson County over the recess to talk about satisfying voters, attracting donors and navigating party lines.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return tonight to our ongoing series tracking first-time members of Congress.

    The last time we saw freshman Representative Denver Riggleman, he was learning to navigate the halls of Congress amidst a government shutdown. Four months into the job, he's now trying to balance life in D.C. with the needs of his district.

    Our Lisa Desjardins is back and caught up with him in his hometown.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    Let's do this.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Eight a.m. Freshman Congressman Denver Riggleman leaves home for his makeshift operating base during recess, his family's distillery in Central Virginia.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    We have we have back to back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings from around noon to 3:00.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In his first four months, the gregarious Riggleman has found the job comes with critics on all sides and a relentless schedule each day.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    In Congress, this is work. And I think you just — this isn't as fun as I thought it would be.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Over the next two hours, he has a tuxedo fitting for a black-tie dinner in Washington, speaks to a crowd at a Vietnam veterans memorial, consoles a constituent, and, at one point, searches for a phone signal for a radio interview.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    Whew.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Riggleman, an Air Force vet and businessman, has never served in office before.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    Hey, Joe. It's Denver.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Now the Republican represents a congressional district stretching through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a place of winding roads and struggling areas mixed with new wealthy residents and a rising brewery and winery industry.

    Riggleman is a conservative, but he speaks about reaching out to Democrats. That has Republicans questioning his loyalty. They point to his vote opposing the president's attempt to end the Affordable Care Act in court.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    Oh, I have heard about it. When I voted that we need to make sure we keep preexisting conditions, I found it interesting that he said that was his number one priority.

    And then people who said, hey, you know, Denver, you're not supporting the Republican ticket by voting with this, I said, well, you need to talk to some of the others who are in Trump districts who voted this way also.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    His Trump district is active, full of signs on a big local issue. Personal relationships matter here, as you see at Wood Ridge Farm Brewery in Nelson County, where locals are divided over how their area is doing.

  • Deb Thompson:

    I think it's probably at the top that it's been in quite a few years. I think it's doing pretty well.

  • Daniel Rutherford:

    The biggest issue that Nelson has is a lot of always finding employment.

  • Anthony Perry:

    It looks like the vineyard business is doing really great. Other parts of the farming industry are not doing too good.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    For others, the issue is health care, taxes, or the environment.

    The district is a challenge, larger in size than the state of New Jersey, with cities like Charlottesville, but also many rural counties. In addition, it contains both Republican and Democratic strongholds.

    Larry Stopper is a retired lumber salvager and the Democratic Party Chairman in Nelson County. He's critical of Riggleman for joining the most conservative group in congress, the Freedom Caucus. They vote with the president on issues like immigration reform.

  • Larry Stopper:

    It's hard to think that you're going to join the Freedom Caucus and represent the 47 percent of the district that voted against you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Back at his House, Riggleman stresses he is in moderate and conservative groups alike.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    I will meet with anybody. And I think people are a little bit intimidated by that. And I think when you see people start screaming about town halls, it's that you want to scream at me in a public forum, because, when they talk to me personally, they find out I'm a pretty reasonable guy. But I am not in any way an ideologue.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But Riggleman has to balance his constituents' needs with intense pressure to fund-raise.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    I didn't realize how it worked. The personal donors, they don't call me at all.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The corporate donors?

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    Oh, yes. They want meetings, you know? And that's — and, listen, that's the transparency thing of this. They want meetings. I can give them a meeting, right?

    The issue that you have, though, is that they have got to fit their meeting within my constituent meetings.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Back at the brewery, Darcy Baker says she and her neighbors just want someone to get things done.

  • Darcy Baker:

    We all want the same thing for our kids. We want a good school. We want to be able to pay our bills.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Simple concepts, but brand-new lawmakers like Riggleman know nothing in politics right now is simple.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins in Nelson County, Virginia.

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