Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch believes that it's not his job as a member of Congress to hold Donald Trump accountable for his rampant dishonesty, or to even criticize him for lying. Instead, Risch says it's up to the media to do that.
Donald Trump is beginning to experience the rumblings of discontent from Senate Republicans.
Retiring Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker has said he will not support Trump again in 2020. And Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who suddenly announced Tuesday that he also will not seek re-election, publicly castigated his colleagues for their complicity in Trump’s assaults on the country, proclaiming, “None of this is normal.”
But their fellow Republicans who are staying in office remain unswervingly obedient to Trump and broadly uncritical of his behavior or agenda.
No Republican better demonstrates this silent cowardice than Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, who took a ridiculously defensive posture when questioned about Trump by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“But when he lies about something and you know it’s a lie, shouldn’t you speak up?” Blitzer asked.
“That’s your job,” Risch insisted, to Blitzer’s shock.
“But that’s your job. You’re a United States senator,” Blitzer reminded him. “You’re a co-equal branch of the U.S. government.”
Risch had nothing but whining in response.
“Wolf, if I went around criticizing a statement that was made by the president or any one of my fellow senators or any one of the congressmen up here or people in Idaho who hold public office, and I stood up and talked every time they talked and said, I don’t like this, I don’t like that, I’m criticizing — I’d be busy all day long.”
Yet suddenly, he believes that criticizing the slightest aspect of a president’s behavior would be too onerous for him. Moreover, Trump has spent his entire time in office trying to make it his word against the media, calling every report he does not like “fake news.” In this sort of climate, journalists cannot be doing their job alone. Lawmakers need to respond, and to stand up for and with the free press.
Blitzer clearly understands that, as he continued to press Risch, reminding him of Flake’s words:
BLITZER: When Senator Flake says you’re complicit if you remain silent in the face of this, what is your reaction?
RISCH: That’s his view.
BLITZER: What is your view?
RISCH: That is not my view.
Incredibly, Risch does not even believe he has any responsibility to respond if Trump undermines basic First Amendment rights, as he made clear when Blitzer refused to back off the subject.
“So when the president goes after the press, should you stay silent? Should you be complicit, when he goes after democracy?” Blitzer asked.
“Listen, he also has the right to go after the press and hold you guys’ feet to the fire, also, when you’re doing the wrong thing,” Risch insisted, adding, “You’re trying to drag me into something.”
When Blitzer pointed out that Trump was doing far worse than criticizing the press — including threatening to withhold broadcast licenses from news organizations he doesn’t like — Risch remained intractable.
“I would expect you to speak out,” Risch stated. “And I would expect your lawyers to speak out.”
Risch believes it is not his job to be a check on the president of the United States — which the Constitution pretty clearly says is a function of his office — nor does he believe it is his job to defend Constitutional freedoms.
And he is speaking for the mentality of every single Republican who has stayed silent about Trump’s gross abuses of power and dangerous, erratic behavior. Many GOP lawmakers appear to view themselves as there solely to do Trump’s wishes, and if anyone dislikes it, they should talk to someone else.
This is a gross perversion of the responsibility of Congress, and an abdication of the basic leadership they owe to the American people.