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Shawn Vestal: Slumbering Jim Risch symbolizes the Senate’s sham trial

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 23, 2020

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, leaves the Senate chamber Jan. 21 during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, leaves the Senate chamber Jan. 21 during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Years from now, as the no-trial impeachment trial of President Trump is reduced to lowlights by history, one image will indelibly symbolize the travesty: Idaho’s Jim Risch asleep during the trial on the Senate floor.

Risch – who promised to keep an open mind while making it clear, along with his fellow Senate Republicans, that he would not – actually took a 15-minute siesta Tuesday on the first day of the trial.

Nothing so clearly represents the nothing-matters, say-anything nature of the GOP response to impeachment, the collective, cynical shrug in the face of a slam-dunk case, as Sleeping Beauty Risch.

“It is what it is,” a refreshed Risch told a reporter for Boise’s KTVB. “We are human beings.”

It doesn’t really matter, of course, whether Risch sleeps or not. He might as well put in ear buds and listen to whale songs while wearing an eye mask and silk jammies. He might as well Nyquil his way through the whole thing. He and his fellows in the Senate majority are making a mockery of their constitutional responsibility here, and there’s no reason to think a little actual slumber during the facts will make any difference.

“Sleeping off the facts” is the whole brand now.

It’s basically what Cathy McMorris Rodgers and her fellow “no” votes did in the House. McMorris Rodgers, reprising her frequent role as a Pez dispenser for talking points, has compliantly criticized the impeachment as a “sham” and as “political.” The latter critique is especially empty coming from her – one of the many Republicans who have sold their principles on the political market and fallen in line behind a venal, corrupt dotard.

But, hey, give her some credit: She at least propped her eyelids open while sleeping off the facts.

Risch practically snored.

Risch, who got rich as a trial lawyer and whose history of political service to Idaho includes the governorship in 2006 and 2007, has been a staunch ally of the president and has earned a reputation as one who will tie himself into even more knots than others to ever avoid acknowledging anything even slightly off about the president.

His Tuesday nap came about four hours into the trial. Florida Democratic Rep. Val Demings was making an eventually unsuccessful argument that the Senate should subpoena the State Department – that it should, you know, seek and weigh facts.

More than one senator was spotted yawning after hours in the room, according to news reports, so he wasn’t the only one whose wakefulness was tested. But Risch nodded all the way off. Several news accounts confirmed this, including a sketch artist for the New York Times and the NBC report that Risch was “most definitely sound asleep.”

The Times sketch showed Risch, slumped in an apparent doze, “catching a few winks” between Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Oddly, a lot of the subsequent coverage focused not on the fact that a senator – a juror sworn to honestly render a verdict on the facts – was asleep, but that he was the first senator to fall asleep.

As though slumber was just to be expected.

In any case, Risch’s office at first simply denied it. The senator, his office initially said, was just listening “with his eyes closed or cast down.”

Later, Risch ramblingly acknowledged that that wasn’t true.

“The media is keeping a list of those they believe dozed off and I think that list is up to about 20 Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “Look, you can’t deny that, you sit there for 11 hours on something like that. Do you slip off? Maybe. It is what it is, we are human beings.”

That estimate of the list is off, so far as I can tell, by 19. But, like his snoozing, it fits right into this mockery of a presidential defense.

Nothing matters. Say anything. Go ahead and rest your eyes.