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Eye on Boise: Idaho lawmakers say U.S. hostages should be part of Iran deal

At President Barack Obama’s press conference last week, he was pressed by a reporter about why the nuclear deal with Iran didn’t secure the release of four Americans in Iran, three being held in jail, including Idaho Pastor Saeed Abedini, and one missing.

That’s a concern raised by all four members of Idaho’s congressional delegation in their reactions to the administration’s newly announced nuclear deal with Iran, about which the lawmakers ranged from skeptical to openly hostile, with Sen. Jim Risch labeling the agreement “horribly flawed.”

Obama told CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett that making release of the Americans a condition of the agreement would have made it harder for the U.S. to walk away from an unsatisfactory deal, and would have sent a message to Iran in the negotiations that they could gain additional concessions by continuing to hold the Americans.

Naghmeh Abedini, a Boise resident and wife of the imprisoned pastor, is among those who have been critical of the deal for not securing his release. Abedini has been imprisoned in Iran since 2012 and received an eight-year sentence for attempting to build a Christian church network in private homes in the Muslim nation. Obama met with the Abedini family, including Naghmeh and her children, when the president came to Boise for a speech in January.

Emergency ‘appropriate’

In response to my requests for comment, Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch issued a five-paragraph statement late last week about the declaration of a “judicial emergency” in Idaho by the federal court system due to the lack of a replacement for U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, leaving Idaho with just one federal district judge. “This is an appropriate designation and all of us involved in the selection process are well aware of the urgency,” the two senators said. Here is their full statement: 

“In response to your inquiry: since Judge Lodge announced retirement we have aggressively pursued his replacement following the clear pathway set out in the constitution which mandates that the president shall nominate and appoint federal judgeships with the advice and consent of the Senate. This is a three step process: the Senate advises, the President nominates and appoints, and the Senate consents or withholds its consent. We take this clear constitutional mandate most seriously. 

“We are well into the process which started early on when we met with White House counsel and developed understandings of each party’s goals in filling this important lifetime appointment. All agreed the search would be to find the best person to serve Idaho who was acceptable to the three persons who must agree to the choice, namely the president and the two of us. We would note that the initial meeting was cordial, respectful, cooperative and productive. Those circumstances have only improved during our several meetings, discussions and negotiations as we have pursued our common goal of filling this important vacancy. We want to stress that we have nothing but high praise for the people we are dealing with at the White House and we are confident that we will reach an appropriate conclusion.

“Due to its importance all parties are taking the time necessary to reach the best conclusion. Many people asked us to consider them and we have been doing so. That type of vetting does take time.

“With Judge Lodge’s move to senior status, Idaho joins 27 other federal judicial districts which have been declared by the Judicial Conference of US Courts to have a judicial emergency. This is an appropriate designation and all of us involved in the selection process are well aware of the urgency. This underscores what the current Idaho congressional delegation and several predecessor Idaho delegations have been pressing for years and that is a third U.S. District Judge for Idaho. The caseload in Idaho per judge demonstrates such a need. Due to the precarious financial condition of the country (2 billion dollars borrowed per day) Congress is not doing much in the way of expanding current programs and thus the difficulty of adding a third judge.

“Thank you for your inquiry. We will continue to pursue the process as quickly and efficiently as possible but with appropriate deliberation and circumspection to see that all applicants receive due consideration and the result is the best for Idaho. When the process is complete we will of course advise publicly.”

Chinese buyout deemed unlikely

The news that Boise’s homegrown Micron Technology is the target of a buyout offer from a state-owned Chinese company was a stunner in Idaho’s capital city, but analysts called it unlikely to succeed and termed the $23 billion bid from Tsinghua Unigroup Ltd. of Beijing a “low-ball” offer. Plus, any takeover would need U.S. government approval; Risch told reporters he “can’t fathom” that happening.