Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID)
When Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch rose to national infamy last year for derailing a spending bill and threatening a government shutdown over a years-old political feud, a home-state newspaper editorialized about his “startling pettiness” and his reputation as a “television celebrity, supreme grudge-holder and Idaho senator (in that order).” The editorial board noted that Risch was going to ascend to the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “For the sake of U.S. diplomacy,” it wrote, “we hope Risch does some serious growing up before then.”
He hasn’t. Instead, Risch has exacerbated tensions in his own Republican conference and with the administration over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Risch has been among the staunchest of Trump’s toadies, and he now stands between Trump and his fellow Republicans who are angry that the administration refused to hold Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the Khashoggi killing. Last week it came to a head when Risch finally allowed a classified briefing on the issue with administration officials. By all accounts, that briefing was a fiasco. According to CNN sources, “Treasury officials sent to update lawmakers were unable to answer even the simplest of questions about the White House’s decision to ignore Congress’ requests for a report on the role the Saudi leader played in the death of Khashoggi.” Rather than being mollified by the briefing, his fellow Republicans turned on Risch, feeling that the briefing was “an intentional slap in the face by the administration.”
As a result, the briefing “only stoked Republicans’ anger over the situation, as many GOP Senators emerged newly motivated to push back.” It’s not just this issue where Risch’s refusal to hold the administration accountable is causing issues for the whole Senate. When it comes to foreign policy, they’re dealing with a black hole: refusal by the administration to comply with statute or share information on foreign policy decisions. One Republican senator told CNN that the briefings they have received “honestly have just amounted to more bullshit.”
Risch’s refusal to conduct any oversight of the administration’s policies and actions abroad has forced Senate Republicans to just go around his committee and bring legislation directly to the floor. One example was this week’s vote to end support to Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen, a proxy vote to rebuke Trump over his refusal to hold MBS accountable. The rebuke of Trump passed with seven Republican votes.