Idaho Sen. Jim Risch on Tuesday called it “very painful” to see two big-name GOP senators in bitter disputes with President Trump, but said his biggest concern is that the disputes are public.
“Our party has robust internal discussions and disputes — most of the time they’re private,” Risch told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “When they become public, it’s always hurtful, and you’d hope they could get it back to a situation where they could sit down and resolve those issues between themselves.”
Risch’s comments came after Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake announced in a searing Senate floor speech that he won’t seek re-election, and blasted President Trump for “flagrant disregard of truth and decency.”
“There are times we must risk our careers,” Flake said. “Now is such a time.” He said he could no longer be “complicit” in Trump’s actions.
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Risch told CNN, “By now I think it should be patently obvious to everyone that we have a president who is a very unique personality and a very strong character. And if you indeed publicly fight with him, he is going to fight back. Look, I’ve had a number of disagreements with the president. … He has treated me with nothing but respect and dignity as we discussed those. … He still treats me with respect. But I don’t go on Twitter in the morning and start poking him.”
When Blitzer asked Risch, “When he lies about something and you know it’s a lie, shouldn’t you speak up?” Risch responded, “That’s your job ... Wolf.”
“I’m not going to go around every time the president or a congressman or another senator … says something I disagree with, jump up and start criticizing. I’m just not going to do that,” Risch said.
He added, “I’ve got a job to do. I’m focused on issues. I’m focused on getting a tax plan.”
Flake’s strong words in the Senate on Tuesday followed harsh criticism of Trump from Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who also has announced he won’t seek re-election. If Republicans retain their majority in the Senate, Risch is likely to fill Corker’s spot leading that committee.
Risch said, “I don’t want to get involved. Each of them has a different relationship with the president. … I work with the president, I work with both of them. … I consider all of them friends.”
Risch also told CNN that despite the uproar over Flake’s Senate speech, the president’s lunch with GOP senators on Tuesday went well.
“It was very light-hearted, very sincere,” Risch said. “The president did about a 30-minute monologue talking about the greatest hits and talking about what we have to do in the future, he answered about 10 questions. It was a discussion about policy that needed to happen. It was a pleasant experience. There was none of this bickering.”
This article has been updated to correct a quote.
Statesman staff contributed.