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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Risch, Fulcher endorse Donald Trump for president as pressure mounts on Republicans

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 6, 2023.  (Orion Donovan Smith/The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON – Monday’s caucuses in Iowa marked the start of voting to select the next Republican candidate for president, but a growing number of GOP lawmakers are treating the race like it’s already over.

Sen. Jim Risch announced his endorsement of former President Donald Trump on Jan. 13, three years after Trump supporters ransacked the Idaho Republican’s office, according to video released by federal prosecutors, during a riot that Risch called “unpatriotic and un-American in the extreme” in a statement at the time. Rep. Russ Fulcher, a Republican who represents North Idaho, also backed Trump in a statement Thursday.

An unrepentant Trump hasn’t tried to distance himself from the violent events of Jan. 6, 2021, even as he faces criminal charges related to inciting the riot, in addition to three separate indictments for which he could face trial before the November election. He has embraced the alleged and convicted rioters, calling them “hostages” and playing a recording of them singing the national anthem during his campaign rallies.

That hasn’t stopped many congressional Republicans from backing the former president. In a statement announcing his endorsement, Risch made no mention of the other Republican presidential candidates who are still in the race, instead contrasting his positive experience working with Trump with his view of the Biden administration, which he said has “knowingly, willingly, and intentionally reversed everything President Trump did.”

“I realize President Trump greatly aggravates the left and the national media,” Risch said. “I believe that is a small price to pay for righting this ship of state which is so greatly listing. I hope Republicans will join me in nominating President Trump.”

The Idaho senator, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the second half of Trump’s presidency and still serves as the panel’s top Republican, said he “watched firsthand the United States rightfully take its place at the top as the leader of the world in foreign relations and national security” during Trump’s tenure in the White House.

Risch’s predecessor at the head of the Foreign Relations Committee, former GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, retired in 2019 after criticizing Trump for diminishing the United States’ role in the world and trying to “tear apart” America’s global alliances.

The Idaho senator voiced a different perspective, calling the results of Biden’s presidency “catastrophic and heartbreaking.”

“I deal daily with foreign governments, friendly and some not-so-much,” Risch said. “Our reputation as a reliable partner on security matters has diminished greatly, our cost of energy is overwhelming, inflation has driven every American family backwards, and daily over 10,000 illegal immigrants cross into the United States to tap into a system which is already unsustainable. How I long for the America of three years ago.”

Risch’s statement highlights some of the circumstances that could make Biden vulnerable to losing a rematch against Trump, as both men remain widely unpopular among U.S. voters, according to opinion polls aggregated by FiveThirtyEight

While Trump was president during the deadliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic – when he suggested injecting disinfectant to kill the virus, praised Chinese President Xi Jinping’s handling of the crisis and repeatedly said the disease would soon “disappear” – Biden has presided over its economic fallout.

Inflation has eased since surging in 2022 as government stimulus spending compounded the effects of pandemic-related supply chain disruptions, but prices remain high. Gas prices have likewise fallen since their peak in mid-2022, which was caused in part by the side-effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Biden has declined to boast about the fact that U.S. crude oil production has hit a record high under his watch.

Fulcher echoed many criticisms about Biden in a statement Thursday, which his campaign provided in response to questions from The Spokesman-Review, endorsing Trump and painting a bleak picture of the nation under Biden’s presidency.

“America is in crisis,” Fulcher said. “Our borders are open to human traffickers, drug smugglers, violent criminals, and terrorists. Thanks to ‘Bidenomics,’ the American dream is out of reach for millions while the far-left tries to enact draconian gun control laws and a federal takeover of elections.”

The southern border has become a focal point of GOP attacks against Biden, while the president has said he will make concessions to Republicans in ongoing negotiations over a deal that would pair funding for U.S. allies with more border security money and changes to asylum policy. In recent months, record numbers of migrants have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally to request asylum. While roughly half of those migrants are deported, the rest are allowed by current law to stay in the United States – often for years – while they await court hearings.

In his endorsement of Trump, Fulcher alluded to Biden’s frequent appeals to “the soul of the nation,” which began after Trump said in 2017 that there had been “very fine people on both sides” of a neo-Nazi rally and counterprotest in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Folks, we’re at a crossroads,” Fulcher said in his statement. “The battle to save the soul of the greatest nation that the world has ever known is here. Idahoans, and most Americans, know they are not better off now than they were under competent leadership.”

Rep. Cliff Bentz, who represents Eastern Oregon, was the first Northwest Republican in Congress to endorse Trump in the 2024 election. In a Jan. 10 post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Bentz said he had spoken with several former members of Trump’s cabinet to ask if they believed Trump “had the ability to effectively govern our country.”

“They were unequivocal in their support of President Trump and genuinely supportive of a second Trump term,” Bentz wrote. “It’s time to recognize that our former President will win the primary and will be back in the Whitehouse in a little more than a year IF WE HELP.”

Congressional Republicans face intense pressure to support Trump. Most of the GOP lawmakers who openly criticized him in the wake of the attack on the Capitol have been forced out of Congress – and in some cases, out of the party altogether – with Newhouse one of just two House Republicans to be re-elected after voting to impeach Trump for inciting the riot.

Even staunch Trump allies have learned the former president won’t tolerate support for his primary opponents. Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, who chairs the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, is facing a Trump-backed primary challenge after Good endorsed Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida in the GOP primary.

“Bob Good won’t be electable when we get done with him,” Trump campaign manager Chris LaCivita told The Cardinal News on Jan. 17.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., endorsed Trump at a rally in New Hampshire on Friday night, after Scott dropped out of the presidential primary when a campaign heavy on positivity failed to resonate with GOP voters.

A narrow majority of congressional Republicans have yet to endorse a candidate for president, according to a FiveThirtyEight tracker. They include Idaho’s two other members of Congress, Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson, who represents most of Boise and eastern Idaho. GOP Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside and Lori Chavez DeRemer of central Oregon also have yet to endorse a candidate in their party’s presidential primary.

A spokeswoman for Crapo noted that he “has historically waited to make such announcements until later in the cycle,” while a Simpson spokeswoman said the House lawmaker “has not endorsed in the race, but he has always made it clear he will fully support the Republican nominee for President.”

When members of Congress returned to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 – after police had cleared the rioters but before cleaners had finished scrubbing blood off the marble floors – Fulcher and Bentz voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election, while every other House Republican from the Northwest voted to certify the results. So did Crapo and Risch, with the latter saying in a statement that night, “I was proud to join my colleagues and reconvene at the Capitol tonight to prove that mob rule never prevails.”