If you are a die-hard Republican who puts the word “greatness” in the same sentence with Donald Trump – as many within the GOP do – then you’ll probably appreciate how Idaho Sen. Jim Risch does business as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Risch, who communicates with the president on a routine basis, has made it a practice of not criticizing the Trump. Risch’s committee is not the place for high-profile investigations of the administration’s actions, or the first stop for impeachment proceedings. Risch boasts of having an open dialogue with the commander in chief and any disagreements he has with the president are discussed behind closed doors.
The senator says his approach is one that best serves himself, personally, and the nation. Critics dispute whether Risch is acting on the best interest of the country, but there is no doubt that he’s making the right moves for himself personally – and especially politically.
Congressional oversight works only when both political parties are willing to engage, and in this environment, “oversight” is a one-way street for Democrats. Trump owns the Republican Party, and except for Sen. Mitt Romney, just about everybody in Congress with a GOP tag. Republicans basically are fine with Trump doing as he pleases.
Risch, who has been involved in politics in one way or another for more than a half a century, knows how the game is played. When he was president pro tem of Idaho’s Senate in the 1980s, he expected loyalty from his fellow senators and mostly got it. Those who sided with him got choice committee assignments, or nice offices.
Those who dared to go against him were relegated to the back bench. Risch is giving the same courtesy to President Trump, who places a similar value on loyalty. If Risch suddenly became an oversight cop on Capitol Hill, as his critics suggest he should do, he’d be a forgotten figure in the Trump White House. And, as a bonus, he would be tarred and feathered by the Republican faithful in Idaho – with state party chairman Raul Labrador leading the way.
But for former State Rep. Paulette Jordan, the only Democratic candidate with any kind of a shot at knocking out Risch in November, foreign policy is far from being a lost cause. She can effectively argue that if Risch is going to use his power to side with Trump, then it’s only appropriate for him to take ownership of Trump’s policies – warts and all.
Marc Johnson, a political columnist who served as chief of staff under Gov. Cecil Andrus, describes America’s status as a world leader being in retreat and decline. “Among America’s closest International friends, the deterioration of our country’s standing is simply astounding. In a recent survey of our once closest European allies, only 20 percent of the residents of the United Kingdom said the U.S. would act responsibly in the world. In France, 3 percent – you read that correctly – think the U.S. is best positioned to confront global challenges,” he wrote.
“As capable as the president has been of destroying U.S. credibility and puncturing the myth of American exceptionalism, he didn’t get there all my himself,” Johnson says. “He had a lot of help from this feckless, rudderless, incompetent collection of Republican senators and members of Congress. And no one wears the feckless label more notably than Idaho’s Jim Risch, who, intitle only, sits atop the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”
Ah, Trump loyalists will say, consider the source. Andrus was not a fan of Risch, and it’s clear that Johnson has an equal low regard for the senator. But Johnson offers some delicious talking points for Idaho Democrats and this year’s campaign.
Of course, the administration has bragging points of its own – including building a constructive relationship with North Korea (opposed to engaging in nuclear warfare), getting NATO to increase support for defense and curtailing ISIS.
Risch will defend to the end his working relationship with Trump, saying “I’m privileged to speak directly and frequently with President Trump and I’m honored to be able to counsel with him on matters of foreign relations and national security.”
We’ll see in November if Idaho voters agree with Risch’s approach.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org