BOISE — U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said he has no worry about a threat from Russia, saying Russia is “the most overrated country on the face of the planet.”

But he sees a large threat from China, which he said will make the 21st century about “competition between powers.”

Risch made a stop in Boise Thursday at the Boise Metro Chamber’s constituent forum. He outlined his priorities for the Senate committees he sits on and answered questions from attendees.

“There’s never been a better time to be an American,” Risch said.

Here are some the takeaways from the forum:

Tariffs: Idaho businesses were hit hard with export tariffs this year. Risch said Republicans are “free traders” and believe businesses thrive when they can “trade freely without tariffs and without barriers.”

As chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Risch said that his main agenda is to foster good relationships with other countries so “they can and do buy Idaho products.” Tariffs with key trade partners, such as the Canadian tariffs on dairy, is an issue, he said.

Advocating for small businesses: Risch sits on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, where he said he works on making small businesses a priority.

“It is because small businesses are so important to our local, national and state economy that Washington needs to do all they can to help small businesses thrive and grow,” he said.

Risch said that small business owners create two out of every three jobs in the country, and statistics reported to the committee show “high optimism” among small business owners.

National debt: When asked by a constituent about the best way to combat the rising national debt, Risch said that it is the largest threat to the country.

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“Nobody talks about it,” Risch said, “and it’s a national tragedy.”

Risch said “on a good day” fewer than 10 congressional members worry about the upcoming national debt crisis. But he does not support imposing a temporary sales tax to combat it.

Troops in Afghanistan: Former U.S. Army Sgt. Dan McKnight, 43, of Meridian, has gathered signatures across the state for a petition to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. On Wednesday, he questioned Risch what it would take for his support.

Risch responded that the president has signed authorization for negotiation with the Taliban that would bring the country closer to withdrawing troops.

“Hopefully, we get some good news out of those negotiations,” he said.

Risch also mentioned the inability to pull troops from Syria due to a remaining ISIS threat, the limited ability to respond to a terrorist attack if there were no presence in the country, and other international conflicts between American allies that the U.S. must navigate.

Funding for border wall: One member of the crowd asked Risch if he objects to using the Department of Defense funds meant to support counter-drug activities to build additional security barriers along the border. Previously reported by the Idaho Press, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo outlined that the president intends to use $2.5 billion from the Department of Defense funds for counter-drug activities for border security.

Risch said there was no objection by him and the Republican party. When asked why, he responded “because we are who we are.”

Risch told the Idaho Press he would rather have funded the wall by compromise with Congress than out of different federal funding channels like the counter-drug funds.

“A simple solution would have been Congress giving the president the average total of funds that Congress has approved for the last four presidents for border security,” Risch said. “It’s unfortunate that (Congress) put him in a position where he’s doing what he feels like he needs to do for America, and doing it the only way he can.”

Riley Bunch is the night reporter for the Idaho Press. Reach her at 208-465-8169 or follow @rbunchIPT on Twitter.

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