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Path opens for Risch to possibly chair Senate Foreign Relations, if GOP holds Senate in 2018

Sens. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, left, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., confer during the Senate Intelligence Committee's hearing on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies. (AP /  J. Scott Applewhite)
Sens. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, left, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., confer during the Senate Intelligence Committee's hearing on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies. (AP / J. Scott Applewhite)

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch’s name is being bandied about in Washington, D.C. today as the possible next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with current Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., announcing yesterday that he won’t seek re-election, and the other leading candidate for the post – Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. – telling Politico today that he’s not interested in vying for the chairmanship in 2019. “Jim Risch wants to be chairman,” Rubio told Politico. “I’ll support him.” You can read Politico’s full report here.

Risch would get his shot only if Republicans hold their majority in the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections; you can read my full story here at

The Washington Post reports that Risch sent signals today that he wouldn’t defer to anyone else, and wants the chairmanship himself. Risch, who is the No. 2 Republican on the committee by seniority, told the Post, “We have a long, clear history of how these things are resolved in the Senate. We will follow that route when we get there.”

Risch, 74, is in his second Senate term, which runs through 2020. He’s suggested he’ll run again then for another six-year term, though by the time that term would end he'd be in his 80s.

“Sen. Risch is currently Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. He takes those responsibilities seriously and over the next 15 months, he will continue using that platform to advocate for small business growth and reducing regulations,” his press secretary, Kaylin Minton, said this afternoon. “Regarding the obvious vacancy that will occur in the Chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with the announcement from Senator Corker that he will retire from the Senate: Sen. Risch is the next Republican in seniority on the Foreign Relations Committee. The Senate has a long, consistent and predictable history for selecting chairmanships based on seniority. The Foreign Relations chairmanship vacancy will be filled by the Senate.”

In addition to the Foreign Relations Committee and the small business chairmanship, Risch serves on the Intelligence Committee; the Energy and Natural Resources Committee; and the Ethics Committee.

Not well-known in Washington despite frequently appearing on national news shows to comment in international affairs, Risch has proudly hailed his repeated ranking by the National Journal as the “most conservative” member of the U.S. Senate.

Since President Trump took office, Risch has made his mark as a strident defender of the administration, though he was initially a lukewarm supporter and had endorsed Rubio for president. When congressional attention focused in May on reports that Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at a White House meeting, Risch vehemently defended Trump, saying the president acted properly. “There’s a weasel here and the weasel is not the president of the United States,” Risch told CNN then. “It’s the traitor who disclosed these facts to the Washington Post. I wish you’d go out and interview the Washington Post and ask ‘em to disclose who that is.”

Risch was a successful trial attorney, a rancher, former prosecutor and longtime state senator in Idaho before he was elected lieutenant governor in 2002, and then briefly served as governor after then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was appointed secretary of the interior in 2006. After his seven months as Idaho’s 31st governor, Risch was re-elected as lieutenant governor in 2006, then elected to the Senate in 2008 and re-elected in 2014.

He holds both a bachelor’s degree in forestry and a law degree from the University of Idaho.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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