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Risch influence goes in different direction

by CHUCK MALLOY
| June 21, 2021 11:40 AM

Sen. Jim Risch’s political life was much more fun with Donald Trump as president and Republicans had control of the Senate. But perhaps there is something liberating with President Biden in the White House.

For one, Risch got to write an op-ed for the Washington Post in advance of Biden’s summit with Russian strongman Vladmir Putin. Afterward, the senator released a statement expressing his disappointment with the outcome of the high-level meeting.

Risch, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, remains fairly measured in his criticisms of Biden, but he’s not shy about speaking up when he finds flaws with the administration’s actions.

That wasn’t the case when Trump was president and Risch was the committee chairman. During those days, Risch would not dare to pen op-eds or circulate press releases criticizing Trump. Risch has said that any disagreements with Trump were discussed privately. He did not test Trump’s volcanic temper.

Of course, Risch was part of Trump’s inner circle — a confidant on foreign policy issues. Risch remains as one of the Senate’s foremost experts on foreign policy, but he is not part of a Democratic president’s inner circle. So, Risch can say what he wants about Biden and there’s a wide audience that will listen to what he has to say.

That must feel liberating. And it’s all done in the name of congressional oversight.

In his op-ed with the Washington Post, Risch discussed Biden’s objective to put the relationship with Russia on a stable and predictable path. “Yet, despite repeated statements from the Kremlin that it is open to normalization, progress on arms control and cooperation on issues of mutual interest, it has yet to take a single step that would demonstrate any commitment to these goals. In fact, Putin thrives on chaos,” Risch wrote.

The senator dinged Biden for heading into the summit without a clear agenda or defined strategic goals.

Not surprisingly, Risch came out with a list of “disappointments” with the outcome of the Biden-Putin meeting. “I’m disappointed Biden made no efforts to address Russia’s Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty violations, while the Biden administration unilaterally disarms,” Risch said. “Summits are about delivering results … so to learn there was no tangible progress made with Russia on any issues is both unfortunate and disappointing.”

During Putin’s 20-year rule, Risch said, “the West has failed to meet his aggressive conduct with any response that has generated lasting change. I am disappointed by issues that remain unresolved following President Biden’s meeting with Vladimir Putin.”

Without saying so directly, Risch was taking a swipe at Trump — who was president for four of those 20 years. As far as dealing effectively with Russia, Risch is saying in effect that both presidents failed.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, had a decidedly different perspective than Risch. The Democratic chairman was far from disappointed about the outcome.

“President Biden did his job and stood up for the American people by making it clear that the United States will respond to Kremlin aggression where and when it happens,” Menendez said. “This was a necessary reality check for Putin and a welcome departure from the past four years of Trump’s coddling of the Kremlin. President Biden made it clear his administration understands the critical principle that we have to engage with Russia on arms control issues to ensure a nuclear war never happens.”

We can pray that a nuclear war between two giants never happens. Politically, it’s understandable that Menendez and Risch offer praise and criticisms of the president. But if things go terribly sideways in our country’s relationship with Russia, those two senators could play leading roles in putting this on the right course.

And if that national emergency were to occur, it would be nice to think that the senators would be non-partisan in their approach to solving the problem.

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