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New to Capitol Hill, Reps. Riggleman and Spanberger face shutdown’s added pressure

Two new House members, Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va., and Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., belong to the largest congressional freshman class in decades. Even before their offices were fully set up, these Capitol Hill newcomers had to cast votes on how to handle a government shutdown that's stretched on for weeks. Lisa Desjardins accompanies Riggleman and Spanberger on their first days in Congress.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The congressional freshman class of 2019 is the largest in decades.

    With them comes a change in party leadership, as well as generational and demographic shifts.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins spent time with two newly elected members as they navigated their first days in office during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In a back hallway of a congressional office building, change has come in a wave of people and hugs.

    Former CIA officer and Democrat Abigail Spanberger is minutes from becoming a new member of Congress. Desks and shelves inside are empty, computers not at all set up, but the doors are open, and so many of her Virginia supporters have come that Spanberger needs a chair to be heard.

  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.:

    I'm looking forward to getting to work very shortly, so I might disappear. Please excuse me, but it's — because I really want to get sworn in, and I don't want to miss that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Two floors below, it's also day one for Republican Denver Riggleman. He's surrounded by his three daughters and a new world, understanding the vote schedule.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    So, time remaining zero doesn't mean that…

  • Woman:

    That it's closed.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    That it's closed.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Testing the phone.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    Oh, yes, Congressman Riggleman here, yes. Pepperoni pizza, please.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And even trying to open his window.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    I promise we just did this.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    His district runs in a long stripe through Virginia, next to Abby Spanberger's.

    Together, they literally form the center of a purple state. Like Spanberger, Air Force veteran and distillery owner Riggleman has never held political office before. They have everything to learn, including how to get from their offices to the House chamber for votes.

    Add to this, they are taking office in the middle of a government shutdown, and immediately faced votes on whether to back Democrats' bill to reopen most of government without funding a border wall.

  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.:

    We went from the open House to the swearing-in, keep running, running, running, and then went straight into votes. And so it made it really real on the first day, when you cast that first vote.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    I think it's like — it's like a exhilaration wrapped in chaos, right, with a lot of spicy mustard. That's pretty much what it's like.

  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.:

    Of course, I was voting to reopen the government, which is incredibly impactful for me, as a former federal employee.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    You put your voting card in, but the first vote, like, wait a second, you look up and your name is up on the big board, right? It's like the — you know, the JumboTron for congressmen and congresswomen.

    And you get goose bumps. Like, I have 730,000 people who are relying on me right now to represent them. And some are going to agree, some are not going to agree. But that vote means something.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    They both voted with their party, but both, sitting down with us, expressed frustration.

  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.:

    But I can speak to the fact that my district wants us to stop this. My district wants us to get the government functioning. My district wants to not see disagreement after disagreement and fight after fight.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Her district voted for President Trump in 2016, and was represented by conservative Dave Brat. When Spanberger upset him, she become the first Democrat to represent the area in nearly 50 years.

    So Speaker Pelosi's current message, no talk of border barriers and pointing at President Trump, doesn't synch up with all of Spanberger's voters.

  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.:

    Yes, I mean, I think both sides need to come to the table and need to say, what's the goal? Because that's — I think, from my perspective, that's the challenge. I have voters in my district saying, you know, what's happening?

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    It's a tough one. I was — I was elected to make tough votes, so I made it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Riggleman told us he thinks the president is right to push for border wall money, for now. But he also believes both parties are missing something.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    I believe, if we can change some of the language and verbiage from just build the wall to comprehensive border security, you know, with physical barriers, with looking at defensive depth, I actually think something could get done.

    I think you see, I would, say moderates on both sides, independents, even far right and far left, are saying, we have to do something here.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We asked them both, what words would they use to describe it all, the first days, the high stakes?

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    Adjectives. Oh, goodness. The first would be awestruck. Second would be terrified. The third one would be honored. The fourth one would be terrified.

  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.:

    I mean, I think it's interesting, heart-wrenching, exciting. I don't know. What's the adjective that comes with like "ahh"?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.:

    Exasperating? Yes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There is some hope that their freshman class, the largest since the '70s and full of first-time candidates, could be its own gravitational force.

  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.:

    There's so many people — and maybe every year, people come in and say they want to change things, and maybe lose steam. There are so many of us, that there's just we're going to be further propelled. I think it's undeniable that there will be a monumental change with this class in various places.

  • Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    I honestly believe there are people here that haven't been changed by D.C. I don't think there's a whole lot of them. I would hope that, if I feel like I'm being changed, I would walk away.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    They come in as outsiders. The next year will show what they change and if Washington changes them.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

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