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Idaho’s Risch could chair Senate Foreign Relations if GOP holds Senate in 2018

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 27, 2017, 10:43 p.m.

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. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
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. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch’s name was being bandied about in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday as the possible next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with current Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., announcing Tuesday that he won’t seek re-election, and the other leading candidate for the post – Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. – telling Politico that he’s not interested in vying for the chairmanship in 2019.

“Jim Risch wants to be chairman,” Rubio said. “I’ll support him.”

Risch would get his shot only if Republicans hold their majority in the Senate in the 2018 midterm elections.

The Washington Post reports that Risch sent signals Wednesday 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.

Risch’s press secretary, Kaylin Minton, said Risch is focusing now on his role as chair 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,” Minton said.

“Regarding the obvious vacancy that will occur in the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with the announcement from Sen. 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.”

Senate committee chairmanships are usually – but not always – filled by seniority.

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.

Though relatively unknown in Washington, despite frequently appearing on national news shows to comment on 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 during the 2016 presidential campaign.

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. He 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.

Politico reported Wednesday that Corker, in an interview, quipped that Risch is probably the happiest person aside from the Tennessee senator’s family about his decision to retire, and said he jokes to Risch about “having to check my food for poison” when they sit next to each other.