Jim Risch had just asked Pat Kole of the Idaho Potato Commission about this year’s potato crop when his cellphone rang loudly, its bright, old-fashioned “brring, brring” ringtone startling everyone in the conference room of Risch’s Senate office.
“Guys, this is the White House — I gotta take this,” Risch said, ducking out of the meeting.
In his 10 years in the nation’s capital, Risch has gone from a little-remarked senator from a small state to chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one of the most powerful and high-profile positions in Congress. Heads of state and other high-ranking foreign officials regularly seek him out; the president and top administration officials are in touch frequently.
In today’s Washington, D.C., it’s a role that preceded early retirement after two terms for Risch’s predecessor, GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who held the gavel for four years. Corker had repeated, testy, high-profile clashes with GOP President Donald Trump, whose often unorthodox and fast-changing positions on foreign policy have included overtures to the nation’s biggest enemies and insults to longtime allies. But it’s a role that Risch relishes.
“The president interacts with me on a very respectful basis. That respect flows both directions,” Risch said, “and that’s how you get things done.”
I spent a week in the nation's capital looking into how Risch is handling this new role. You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up today's Sunday/Monday edition of the Idaho Press; it's on the front page.