Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch plays President Donald Trump’s sycophant in public in order to serve as his confidant in private.
So he told Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press last weekend:
“The president and I have disagreements, but I have found the best way to try and have some influence is to keep it between he and I,”Risch said.
Unfortunately for Risch, Trump is beginning to rub off on him.
Consider the most notorious episode in Risch’s Senate — if not entire political — career.
Back in March 2018, a visibly agitated Risch threatened to block a must-pass $1.3 trillion spending bill.
Buried on page 786 of that 2,232-page bill was a provision renaming the recently designated White Clouds Wilderness in honor of former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, who had died the previous August.
Risch — once described by the former governor as “one of the most partisan people I’ve ever had to deal with,” and “that short little son of a bitch. Oops, I didn’t mean to call him short.” — was having none of it.
To pass the bill, the Senate dropped the language. But in the House, the man responsible for creating the wilderness in the first place and then attaching Andrus’ name to it — Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho — refused to go along.
So Andrus got the honor. And Risch got nailed with this headline: “Risch picks fight with dead man, loses.”
When Russell raised the issue, Risch broke his silence and employed Trumpian tactics:
l Gaslighting — This involves an assault on your bearings, such as when Trump describes his shakedown of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a “perfect” conversation.
In Risch’s case, it applies to telling Russell he had “no feud with Andrus,” and that it was the other way around. “Look, any time somebody puts something in a bill that affects Idaho without a hearing and they put that in a 3,000-page bill ... I always thought the wilderness would be named after Cecil Andrus,” he said. “I actually supported it. But you shouldn’t do it in the middle of the night. That was my balk there.”
l Whataboutism — This is where Trump changes the topic with a false equivalency, such as “What about Hillary’s emails?” In Risch’s case, it’s what about Simpson sneaking the wilderness name change into the bill without telling him.
“Mike did that,” Risch told Russell. “He put it in that 3,000-page bill and that wasn’t the way to do it.”
l Process over substance — Trump’s doing that by demanding the full House vote on an impeachment inquiry rather than defending his conduct. Risch is doing it by insisting his late-hour Senate conniption was sparked by a rational disagreement over Simpson’s breach of “process,” rather than a long-simmering emotional dispute with his old nemesis.
l Historical revisionism — Exhibit A: In 2016, Trump promised Mexico would pay for the wall. Two years later, he’s siphoning American tax dollars from military budgets to pay for it.
Exhibit B: In 2018, Risch told befuddled Capitol Hill reporters : “I don’t have any comment. ... No. What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand? ... Do I have a problem with my English? I don’t have any comment.”
More than 18 months later, he tells Russell he’s the victim of a misunderstanding.
Even if Risch does not give two hoots about what the Washington press corps, his home state media and Idaho voters think about all this, you’d expect a man falsely accused of acting on a grudge he says he does not bear would explain himself privately to the late governor’s family.
It hasn’t happened yet.
“No,” said Tracy Andrus, the late governor’s daughter. “Mr. Risch is trying to rewrite history. I’m comfortable letting history speak for itself.”
Did Simpson violate congressional protocol by sneaking one past Risch?
Not according to this statement Simpson’s office issued: “Congressman Simpson was very fortunate to have the support of Sen. Risch in passing the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness legislation. Later, when Gov. Andrus passed away, Congressman Simpson wanted to honor him by naming a wilderness after him. The most simple way to accomplish this was to insert the language in an appropriations bill. Sen. Lisa Murkowski also named a wilderness in the same bill. Given the late governor’s historic status in Idaho, Congressman Simpson did not think it was necessary to alert either Idaho senator that he added the renaming language at the time.”
In other words, Simpson didn’t single out Risch. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, also wasn’t alerted about the Andrus wilderness designation.
So if it was all about breaching a sacred Senate process — and not Risch’s lingering animosity toward Andrus — why wasn’t Crapo jumping up and down on the Senate floor as well?
All the gaslighting, whataboutism, process over substance and revisionism doesn’t change one fact: Andrus knew how to get under Risch’s skin.
Somehow, he’s still doing it. — M.T.