Malloy: Risch to Idahoans: Read transcript, then decide

Malloy: Risch to Idahoans: Read transcript, then decide

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Idaho Sen. Jim Risch chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is the No. 2 figure on the Select Intelligence Committee, which means he has access to President Trump – and lots of clout to boot.

So, don’t expect the Idaho Republican to be joining Democrats in efforts to impeach the president. Risch’s views go in the opposite direction.

“But don’t take my word for it, because I’m partisan,” he told me last week. “Don’t listen to Democrats, and certainly don’t listen to the national media.”

Risch says Idahoans should make up their own minds – after reading the notes (or transcript) of the president’s phone conversation with the Ukrainian president. As Risch correctly describes, it’s easy reading and it takes just a few minutes to go through the report. Perhaps extra credit can go to those who read the whistleblower’s complaint – which also is relatively easy to understand — and see how that lines up with Trump’s phone conversation.

If you dislike Trump, there’s plenty of fodder for disliking him even more. He encouraged Ukraine as “a favor” to investigate his potential Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and offered the services of his personal attorney (a.k.a. Henchman) Rudy Giuliani and the attorney general to help with the effort. Leading Democrats describe the conversation on the level of a mob shakedown, and they’re not entirely wrong. When Trump asks for a “favor,” it’s like something out of a Godfather movie – and it winds up being an offer that you can’t refuse (no pressure, of course).

In this case, Trump was talking to a president of a country that Risch acknowledges has been fraught with corruption for decades – a place where money can come in and mysteriously disappear. Ukraine is hardly the place for a U.S. president to find truth and justice.

But does the conversation constitute an impeachable offense? Risch doesn’t think so (no surprise there) — and he has a lot of Republican friends in Idaho who agree with him.

“I’ve been in this business for a long time. I’ve been a prosecutor and I can smell a rat pretty easily,” he said. “It’s just not there.”

There’s not much stench that goes with a conversation that starts out with Trump graciously congratulating the new president on his victory.

“It’s pretty typical of what goes on,” Risch says. “People think these calls are somehow orchestrated. Mostly it’s ‘how is your wife doing?’ … ‘what’s happening with your economy?’ … or ‘how is your country doing?’ If a sports team is doing well, they talk about that. Almost always, there’s a discussion about the political climate within the country.”

Gasp. Is the senator saying that world leaders talk about politics?

Yeah, they do. In this case, the president brought up the subject of Joe Biden and how he, as vice president, held $1 billion in military aid hostage in exchange for Ukraine calling off prosecutors from diving into activities of his son, Hunter. As the story goes, Biden’s son took a lofty job in Ukraine as Biden was looking into corruption in the country.

“Was it a coincidence? I don’t know,” Risch said. “The president said people want to know more about that, and it’s true. I’m one of them.”

No doubt, we’ll be hearing more about that as Biden’s presidential campaign progresses – or maybe sinks if questions get too heated. As for Trump, Risch says, the recent rumblings are an extension of the “hate and vitriol” that has marked his presidency.

“It doesn’t matter what Donald Trump does … they want to impeach him. What has surprised me is it has taken this long. I thought it would happen within 30 or 60 days after the election,” Risch said.

It doesn’t take a fearless forecaster to predict what will happen with this political theater. The House will investigate, and pass, one or more articles of impeachment. Then the Republicans in the Senate – trying to hold back from busting their guts with laughter – will vote against conviction. All this played out in the 1990s when Republicans went after President Clinton, and the GOP paid the price in the short term.

If history repeats itself, then the impeachment exercise will end up biting Democrats in the butt in next year’s election. Of course, much of the national media coverage will side with the Dems on this one.

Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com.

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Small news organizations in rural states aren’t often on the front line of broad public service journalism, but times are changing and one-or-two person shops can make a lot of difference in public awareness of issues if things come together.

A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

And there will be future outbreaks.

The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.

RAPID-RESPONSE TESTING

That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.

NO COORIDINATED EFFORTS

No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

If Joe Biden is counting on African American votes to win the White House in November, he may want to reboot his outreach strategy. During a radio interview Friday morning with Charlamagne tha God on the nationally syndicated, "The Breakfast Club," Biden said that "if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black." It took a handful of nanoseconds for the ...

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