Thursday, June 08, 2023

MALLOY: Risch: Senate control far from decided

| September 19, 2022 12:29 PM

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch has every reason to hope that Republicans gain control of the Senate after November’s midterm elections.

That would mean he would be back as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a lofty position he held during the Trump administration, and that fellow Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo would lead the Senate Finance Committee – assuming that he is re-elected.

But whether Republicans can take back the Senate … that’s another question. “It’s a 50/50 deal, which is a general way of saying I don’t know,” Risch told me.

He is more certain about the GOP’s prospects in the House.

“Republicans will take the House,” he said. “As long as you have one of the two bodies, you have at least partial ball control. If you don’t have either one, they could ride over the top of you. But we are going to take the House, so that makes it less important to have control of the Senate.”

Two years ago, when Senate control was hanging in the balance, Risch offered some gloomy predictions if Democrats were to gain a majority. He thought the party would move to end the filibuster (the 60-vote requirement for getting most bills passed), grant statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and add more seats to the U.S. Supreme Court to negate the court’s conservative majority.

None of those things happened. Moderate forces in the Democratic Party decided, wisely, that ending the filibuster and packing the Supreme Court would not be a good idea. Those things wouldn’t work nearly as well with Republicans in the majority. And for some reason, statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. – which probably would keep Democrats in the majority in the foreseeable future – has not been discussed much.

So the Senate sits with a 50-50 split, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking tie votes. Technically, that gives Democrats a majority. But that can all change on a dime with the midterm elections and several tight races hanging in the balance.

In some ways, these midterms are a sequel to the 2020 presidential election – although neither President Biden nor Trump are on the ballot. Those denying the validity of the last election are out in force on the Republican side, and Biden has labeled Trump supporters as a threat to democracy.

We’ll see whether Trump, or Biden, are assets to their party.

“It depends on the state,” Risch says. “If it’s Massachusetts, then not so much. If it’s Idaho, then (Trump’s) greatly helpful.” For Biden, folks love him in Delaware, but he gets no traction in red states such as Idaho.

It remains to be seen how the abortion issue plays out. Again, it depends on the state.

“The polling I’ve seen suggests that the Supreme Court decision has not moved the needle at all as far as pushing people one way or the other on the issue,” Risch says. “Polling suggests that it has raised the enthusiasm on both sides for single-issue voters. I’m not sure that at the end of the day it makes a lot of difference. People who are pro-life will vote pro-life and those who are pro-choice will vote pro-choice.”

One thing that Risch is certain about are the prospects for Crapo.

“I have a bold prediction,” he said, chuckling. Sen. Crapo is going to win by a landslide.”

Who can argue? A Democrat has not held the U.S. Senate seat in Idaho since Frank Church, and that was back in 1980.

“When Mike talks, people listen,” Risch says. “Republicans have lunch together on Tuesdays Wednesdays and Thursdays and we discuss a lot of things. Mike seldom talks at those meetings, but when he does people are very much tuned into listening to him – especially on financial matters. Mike does not get angry. He’s very pragmatic and he is interested in problem solving, I could not ask for a better working partner.”

It's a partnership that likely will continue for at least another four years, when Risch will be up for re-election. He’ll be 83 by then, so we’ll see what the distant future holds.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at

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