CHUCK MALLOY: Risch exercises influence where it counts

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President Trump, with many of his bombastic comments, makes it easy for so many people to dislike Donald Trump, “the man.” And for the “Never-Trumpers” of this world, it’s easy to forget — or outright deny — that Trump happens to be president of the United States.

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, in a recent interview with Judy Woodruff of PBS about the situation with Iran, said at one point, “We need to all pray for him as he makes those kinds of decisions.”

For Trump-haters, about the only thing they pray for is that he gets run over by a golf cart at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

But Risch, in his role as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is in a sensitive position — especially with a president from his own party. Risch gets his share of criticism from various pundits for not “standing up” to the president and expressing his displeasure when he disagrees.

Translation: They want Risch to spend more time trashing the president — as if there’s not enough of that coming from the national media and House Democrats. He’s accused of brushing off the Mueller report like a dead fly on the wall. Translation: Risch should look at the report with an eye of a Trump-hater, and immediately call for the president’s impeachment.

There are those who suggest that Risch is little more than a lap dog for Trump, which may have validity if you think a temperamental pit bull is a good lap buddy. I’ve known Risch for more than 30 years, and he’s not “timid” in any way. He has no reservations about disagreeing with the president, or anyone else. What he doesn’t do is become “Senator Hot Dog” and call a press conference every time he is at odds with Trump. Most people who comment about politics (including myself) would be terrible politicians. Risch knows how the game is played, and he does it well.

Which is why Risch gets invited to the table for high-level discussions about what to do about Iran. Risch is in the middle of it all.

As Risch told Woodruff, “The military was represented there. Intelligence was represented there, and a broad spectrum of the political people from Congress were there. The president gave everybody an opportunity to express their opinions, to express their view of the upside and downside of all the various options that were there on the table. He listened carefully. He didn’t take one side or the other.”

Hmmm … Trump seemed to be acting “presidential” here.

Risch continued: “He anguished over this and was very concerned about, obviously, the human aspects of this, what happens when kinetic action is used, but also with his duty to defend America … when dealt with confrontation from malign forces.”

In the end, Trump decided that the shooting down of an unmanned drone did not warrant blowing another country to smithereens. So he piled on more economic sanctions against Iran, along with a warning to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, or else.

“I hope the Iranians won’t come away from this saying, ‘oh, this guy is weak,’” Risch said. “They’re dealing with Donald Trump here.”

Woodruff asked Risch if Trump made the right call.

“I’m not going to go there,” Risch said. “What I’m going to say is this is not a Republican or a Democrat decision. This is an American decision. And … only one person can make that decision. That room was full of people, very high-ranking people, but there was only one person in the room that could make that decision.”

There are those who will say that the Woodruff interview is just the latest example of Risch showing blind support for Trump. I view it more as old-school politics, where a leading senator allows the nation to speak with one voice on sensitive foreign policy issues. I’d like to think Risch would extend the same courtesy if Joe Biden were the president.

No matter, Risch does a far better service to Idaho and the nation by being in the “situation room” with the president during these high-level discussions — as opposed to shooting off his mouth, sending out tweets and grandstanding to the media. We get enough of that stuff from Trump; there’s no need for more of the same from the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations.

• • •

Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at

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