“The fortunes of the United States depend on [Trump] being successful,” Risch told me. “I want to do everything I can to make him successful. I don't work for him. I work with him.”
Corker might have believed that his public critiques would set Trump on a successful path, but Risch claims there’s a more effective way to get through to the commander in chief.
“I disagree with [Trump] from time to time. When I do, we talk about it, but I don't do it on the front page of the paper,” he continued, comparing his approach to him and his wife not arguing in front of their kids.
Read: Trump wants little to do with his own foreign policy
Asked whether Corker’s retirement and the passing of John McCain, another prominent critic of the president’s, had removed Republican constraints on Trump’s foreign policy in Congress, Risch rejected the premise of the question.
“The president's already constrained by his constitutional limits and the legislative branch is constrained by its constitutional limits,” he told me. “That is wishful thinking by national media that want somebody to stand up and punch the president in the nose … That is not my role.” (Of course, there is a middle ground between pulling your punches and punching the president in the nose, such as conducting oversight of the administration’s statecraft, which Risch promised to “take seriously.”)
A 75-year-old former trial lawyer, state senator, and governor in Idaho, Risch entered Congress in 2009 and boned up on foreign policy by serving on the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees. He endorsed Marco Rubio during the Republican presidential primary in 2015 and ultimately voted for Trump even though he said that doing so was “distasteful.” While he seems sympathetic to aspects of the president’s “America first” agenda, he doesn’t come across as a Trumpian nationalist. Nor, however, does he appear to be an internationalist in the mold of Rubio. On the whole, he evinces a somewhat parochial outlook on the world, driven by national and local interests.
In discussing the issues he will focus on in his chairmanship, for instance, he has highlighted Idaho-centric concerns such as a Chinese company’s alleged theft of trade secrets from a Boise-based memory chipmaker and the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty with Canada. He’s said that he won’t need to travel much in the role because so many foreign dignitaries pass through Washington, D.C.
Risch said that his first order of business, aside from working on confirming the administration’s diplomatic appointees, is to hold a hearing in February on the “challenges to [America’s] standing in the world.” Corker accused Trump of wrecking that standing by deliberately “breaking down relationships we have around the world that have been useful to our nation.”
But if Risch feels the same way, he didn’t say it.