Risch talks about Trump, economy, and midterms

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U.S. Sen. Jim Risch says economic growth in Idaho and across the country under President Donald J. Trump has been “stunning.”

“If Barack Obama had done what Donald Trump did in the first 18 months of his presidency, they would have insisted his head be on Mt. Rushmore,” Risch said during an interview Wednesday.

However, failure to address the ever-expanding national debt “is not a pretty picture.” Barring a few exceptions including Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Risch said his peers in the Senate are apathetic to the idea of controlling federal spending.

“I can preach it until I’m blue in the face, but they’ll look at you like you have three heads,” said the former Idaho governor and state legislator.

Building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border doesn’t have to mean building a brick-and-mortar wall, said Risch. Technology can serve to secure the border, he said.

When asked if he would support the president in a showdown over funding for a border wall, Risch declined to say anything except: “The government is not going to be shut down.”

He pointed out that most budget items have been funded, but immigration issues keep getting put off for later.

Risch predicted that the midterm congressional elections will not result in a Democratic takeover of the Senate. Redistricting in Republican-controlled states will prove to be a wild card in the House of Representatives elections, he added. The biggest wild card in the midterms, however, is Trump.

“He’s different from any president we’ve had in recent memory,” Risch said.

Most of the presidents Risch has known since the 1980s were pretty stiff, he said, but with Trump things are casual. Contrary to previous administrations that sent out formal invitations on golden letterhead, Risch recalled getting an email to visit the Trumps in the White House, and spending 10 minutes chatting with the president with nary a staffer or Secret Service agent present.

As a member of the Senate’s select committee on intelligence, Risch said the U.S.-Russia relationship should continue to be “a transactional one” in which the nations cooperate on common interests such as fighting terrorism, but hold each other at a distance otherwise. He believes that the Mueller special investigation “should be substantially closer to the end than the beginning,” and related that older members of the Senate had warned him that appointing a special prosecutor would result in a long, drawn-out investigation into a number of unrelated issues. For example, the Kushner family’s dealings in New York City rental real estate are being investigated, Risch said.

One of the most important accomplishments of the Trump era is the remaking of the judiciary by the president, Risch said. More circuit court judges have been confirmed at this point in the president’s term than in previous presidencies during the same period, he noted. The young ages of Trump appointees means that the courts could be “reliably conservative” for decades, he added.

Risch has worked with senators from across the Western states for years to shift the way that firefighting is funded, and that effort is beginning to pay off, he said. In the next fiscal year, federal land management agencies might not have to raid their budgets to fight forest fires, but “can use their money to do forest tending work and cleanup work, especially around vulnerable communities.”

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