Jim Risch DC signing treaty document

Sen. Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, signs a document related to an international treaty for a staffer before a business meeting of the committee on Sept. 18, 2019.

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.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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