Idaho Sen. Jim Risch has been called a lot of unflattering things over the years, so he is not troubled by suggestions that he and 46 other Republican senators are “traitors” for sending a letter to the Iranian government concerning negotiations with the White House. Nor is he bothered by Hillary Clinton asking whether Republicans are trying to help Iran, or harm the commander in chief.
Risch says he’s been called worse things, and negative political rhetoric has been almost a way of life with him during his long political career. He can take a punch, and deliver a punch, with the best of them. On Wolf Blitzer’s CNN “Situation Room” program last week, he was throwing the punches.
“Obviously, we reached a tender nerve for them to be reaching like that,” he told Blitzer. “Iran has no friends in the United States Senate, and to allege otherwise … she knows better than that.”
Democrats label President Obama’s talks with Iran a potential “agreement,” but Risch says those discussions have all the earmarks of a negotiated treaty.
“You can call a cat a dog, but it does not make the cat a dog,” Risch said. “An agreement with another country is a treaty. The Constitution is very clear that Congress has a duty to approve or disapprove treaties. Congress is going to weigh in on this, and the sooner the Iranians get that picture, the better off everybody is going to be.”
The letter to Iran, he said, is no different than congressional leaders making trips abroad to visit with leaders in other countries – which is part of the routine for Republicans and Democrats. Sometimes, they travel together.
Stay tuned for more, because Risch has become a regular guest on Blitzer’s “Situation Room” program – giving Risch a sudden high profile in the Senate. With Republicans sitting in the majority, and Risch holding high seniority positions with the Senate Foreign Relations and Select Committee on Intelligence, he’s starting to become a popular figure on news programs.
“The sun, the moon and the stars lined up well,” Risch told me. “I’m in the right place at the right time.”
What will keep Risch as a go-to source for Blitzer, and possibly others, is that he’s a great interview. Risch does fair as a public speaker; I’ve seen better, and I’ve seen worse. But he knocks out the television interviews. Risch is knowledgeable, engaging, quick on his feet and easy to understand – the kind of interview that Blitzer wants. Risch and Blitzer have known one another for some time, and there’s mutual respect.
“He’s a rare breed on the cable talk shows,” Risch says. “He puts his own slant on things like everybody else, but he tries to deliver the news in a fashion that is neutral.”
With Iran, Isis and Hillary Clinton in the news – and Risch having a lot to say on all those topics – it’s a sure bet he’ll be invited back many times. Clinton, alone, can be a topic of nightly discussions, starting with her controversial use of a private email account for official business when she was secretary of state.
“It’s a big deal, because the law is clear how to handle official emails,” Risch told me. “There are ways of communicating that are in place for security reasons, and one of them is not using a personal email account.”
Despite political differences with Clinton, Risch has a generous amount of respect for her and what she accomplished as secretary of state. She gave the Obama administration credibility in foreign policy, which was not one of the president’s strong suits. But Risch wonders out loud if she will run for president.
“There are few people in Washington who believe this, but I am not absolutely convinced that she is going to run. She worked hard as secretary of state, and it took its toll on her,” Risch said. “No one knows what she’s getting into more than Hillary Clinton. Running for president is one of the most taxing things a human being can do.”
We’ll see what her political future is. But whatever she decides, there’s a good chance that Risch will be giving his take in the “Situation Room.”