Idaho was in the national spotlight for a few hours late Thursday night, but for all the wrong reasons.
Sen. Jim Risch momentarily halted a $1.3 trillion spending bill as a government shutdown loomed, because…He still doesn’t like the late Gov. Cecil Andrus.
Risch demanded a provision to the omnibus appropriations bill because the White Clouds Wilderness in central Idaho was set to be renamed after Andrus, a former four-term Idaho governor. The renaming passed through the House in February, with fellow Idahoan Rep. Mike Simpson sponsoring the bill.
During his time in politics, Andrus, who died in August, fought to prevent the opening of an open-pit molybdenum mine in the White Cloud Mountains. He was secretary of the interior under President Jimmy Carter, and is almost universally lauded by both Republicans and Democrats. Renaming the area was intended to be a homage to his life’s work.
But forget whether Andrus should have the wilderness named after him. The real issue here is the startling pettiness Risch displayed.
Andrus and Risch often clashed while Andrus was in politics, especially over education funding in the 1980s. In a 2008 story by the Spokesman-Review, Andrus is quoted as saying Risch is “one of the most partisan people I’ve ever had to deal with.”
Staying true to his partisan reputation, Risch tried to stick it to the deceased Democrat one last time in demanding the provision. If he had gotten his way, the 2,232-page spending bill would have needed to go back to the House for a new vote while the government shutdown creeped ever closer.
But we have to wonder: Why did he push for the provision late Thursday night when it’s been known since mid-February that the bill included renaming White Clouds? Perhaps it was arranging one too many CNN appearances that kept Risch from being attuned to what was happening in his home state. Or maybe it was his trip to the 2018 Winter Olympics with Ivanka Trump. Either way, he set up Idaho to be a national punchline Thursday night.
Thankfully, despite his temper tantrum, Risch did not get his way. On Friday, President Donald Trump signed the spending bill that included renaming White Clouds for Andrus. Risch had no comment for reporters Friday.
But with Bob Corker, R-Tenn., on his way out the door, Risch, 74, is expected to replace him as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. For the sake of U.S. diplomacy, we hope Risch does some serious growing up before then.