IDAHO FALLS — Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, spent Thursday in eastern Idaho and agreed to meet with EastIdahoNews.com to discuss a variety of issues.
We asked Risch about two eastern Idahoans who have been imprisoned in China for nearly a year, the latest on a proposed COVID-19 stimulus bill, the upcoming election and his thoughts on the United States Postal Service.
Here is a lightly edited transcript of our interview. You can watch the entire conversation in the video player above.
NATE EATON, EASTIDAHONEWS.COM REPORTER:I’d like to ask you about the two workers from China Horizons in Rexburg who were arrested last September in China. I know you probably can’t tell us everything happening behind the scenes, but what can you tell us?
SEN. JIM RISCH: The first thing I can tell you is we have a State Department that’s very, very good. There are thousands of people that work for the State Department, and they deal with problems that American citizens have in a different country.
There are 200 countries in the world. Every one of them has different laws and customs and that sort of thing. It is not uncommon that Americans have a problem with a foreign government. That’s what’s happened here.
These people have been detained for things they would not be detained for in the United States. I can tell you this: I have a staff that deals directly with the agency in the State Department that is dealing with this particular case. They regularly see the people and check on their wellbeing. We are doing everything we can behind the scenes to move this to a better place than where it is.
We have been pretty successful on ones that are similar to this, but in the meantime, it is just a horrible catastrophe for the family as they sit and worry about their loved ones that are in prison in a different country.
The State Department has a very robust operation as far as telling people the “dos and don’ts” when they travel to a particular country. Obviously, China is very high up on the list of things you have to learn before you go so you don’t run afoul of the law. They are not a democracy like we are. They don’t have a First Amendment or other rights that people have here. It is a very central government, and so people have to be careful.
You may remember some years back, but we had a pastor who was in Iran visiting his family, and he wound up in an Iranian prison for years. At the end of the day, we did get him out.
EATON: Let’s talk about the coronavirus and the stimulus bill. What’s happening with the bill? Are people going to get a stimulus check?
RISCH: Back up when this thing started, we put about $3 trillion into a lot of different areas to keep liquidity in the marketplace and also to directly counter the COVID through vaccine development, therapeutic development, personal protective equipment and helping things like law enforcement and others. Their costs went up considerably because of COVID.
So a lot of those programs got started. Some of them even expired like the unemployment (benefit). In Idaho, people are eligible for about $300 a week. After the first COVID bill, $600 went on top of that, so they were receiving about $900 a week. That program expired July 31.
We’ve negotiated with the other side trying to reach an agreement on what that amount should be and how it should be administered because when these things start and you do a one size fits all program, it’s just loaded with potholes. So we’ve tried to fix that
The president, to his credit, has gone in with an executive order and repurposed some funds that were in FEMA to add $300 or $400, depending on what state you’re in, to add to the regular $300 that you get. That’s a work in progress.
We also have negotiations going on as far as a larger bill is concerned. We meet every morning by conference call, and I can tell you it’s been slow, and it’s not progressing.
The other side has told us they didn’t want to do it piecemeal. They wouldn’t even do a bill on the dozen or so things we agree on, but they must have changed their minds because Saturday, in the House of Representatives, they’re actually going to vote on a piece of it that has to do with the Postal Service. That will be a House bill that will come over the Senate. We will go back – not this coming week, but probably the week after that – we will take the House bill, make it better and send it back over there. That’s the status of where we are on that.
There’s a lot of moving parts on it – 18 to 20 different parts. It’s a work in progress, and we’ll keep at it.
EATON: You mentioned the United States Postal Service. A week or two ago, it was thrown into the headlines again. Are people in Idaho going to be safe to vote by mail this year? Is their ballot going to be counted? Are there going to be any issues?
RISCH: Yes, yes and no. People get worked up about this, which I don’t completely understand.
EATON: President Trump has kind of gotten people worked up.
RISCH: He has, and he has a legitimate complaint in states where they just mail out ballots to people who haven’t requested them – just a mass mailing. That has some real problems with it and could be rife with fraud. Here in Idaho, they’re very careful about it, and they compare signatures.
In Idaho, I’m very confident between the country clerks, which do a great job putting on elections, and the Postal Service, who really do a great job handling the mail, there’s no vote that’s going to go uncounted. There’s no doubt in my mind.
With all due to respect to my friends on the other side of the aisle, they want to nationalize elections. They want the federal government to handle all elections everywhere in the country. You can imagine that doesn’t sit really well with us.
We love our local clerks, we love our states. Our states have been really, really competent about putting on elections. We’ve been doing it for a long time since the dawn of this country, and I have every confidence that we’ll get through this and get through it well.
EATON: Speaking of the election, the Democratic National Convention is this week, and Joe Biden is expected to accept the official nomination tonight. Is he going to win?
RISCH: He’ll win the nomination. I’ll give you that. I know him very well. I know Kamala (Harris) very well. She sits on the Intelligence Committee with me.
It’s very difficult to make a call at this time. I’ve got a lot of friends who are pollsters and they talk about the polls. … It’s difficult to poll these days for obvious reasons. Landlines are down to just a fraction. Most people are carrying cell phones, so it’s difficult to do polling.
There’s a lot of animosity and vitriol out there and a lot of people aren’t real anxious to tell others who they’re going to vote for. I think we’re going to have to wait until Election Day to find out how this goes, but we’ll get through it.
We’re Americans. We’ve been through all kinds of stuff. This year is only slightly half over. We’ve been through an impeachment … we’ve been through race riots, we’ve been through the COVID, and it’s only half over.
But Americans are incredibly resilient. We’ve been through a revolution, a civil war, two world wars, the Great Depression – we’ve been through all kinds of other stuff. We’re really good at bouncing back and coming back stronger than what we are. I have absolute confidence America will be back.