Nathan Brown reporter


The big news of last week has been when the Republican-led Senate will try to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death.

By the time you read this on Sunday, President Donald Trump will likely have announced his pick for the spot. Amy Coney Barrett, a circuit judge for the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, appears to be the leading contender. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he plans to hold a vote on Trump's nominee, leading to charges of hypocrisy from Democrats, since McConnell refused to hold a vote on President Barack Obama's nominee Merrick Garland in 2016 on the grounds that the winner of that year's presidential election should fill that vacancy. It looks like McConnell has the votes, and Idaho's U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch will probably be among them.

"I don't think discharging your duties as a senator, or for that matter as president, should depend upon whether there is an election coming," Risch told the Boise TV station KTVB last week. "When we took the oath of office, we raised our right hand and said we'll uphold the Constitution and faithfully discharge the duties of our office. We didn’t say we wouldn’t do it if there's an election coming up."

Crapo, who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee which will be holding the hearing on the nominee, said he will "conduct due diligence and cast any votes with careful consideration according to the principles and values of Idahoans.”

Senate debates

Although Idaho is solidly red in federal elections — a Democrat hasn't won a U.S. Senate race here since 1974, and even the most Democratic-leaning forecasters rate Risch's seat as safely Republican — Democrat Paulette Jordan has been campaigning actively for the seat, holding numerous virtual and in-person events. By contrast, Risch's campaign has been much quieter. Another example of this dynamic played out last week, when Risch's campaign declined an invitation for a live debate with Jordan on KTVB. Idaho Public Television is planning to air a pre-recorded, question-and-answer forum with the candidates, although it is not holding live debates this year due to coronavirus.

"We recommended to the Senator that he accept the Idaho Public Television invitation, as it fits best with our efforts to communicate and publish his views," Risch's staff told the TV station. "As a result, we are going to respectfully decline your invitation, but want to thank you for the opportunity."

Jordan, who previously had been calling on Risch to hold four town hall-style debates with her, accused Risch of ducking her and urged KTVB to hold the debate with or without Risch.

"Senator Risch must be too scared to debate me live," Jordan said. "The senator has been dodging tough problems his whole career. This is an election, not a coronation, and Mr. Risch’s sense of entitlement for this Senate seat is an insult to all Idahoans."

Endorsement roundup

NFIB Idaho, the state's branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, announced 80 endorsements in state legislative races last week. Most were of Republicans, although they did back six Democrats, five of them incumbents who, unlike most Democratic lawmakers, got 70% or better on the group's scorecard of bills they track. The group didn't endorse in 25 races, mostly ones where either a Republican newcomer is running unopposed for an open seat or a Democrat is running in a safely blue Boise district.

“Every candidate claims to be a friend of small business, but we can’t rely on words alone, so we base our endorsements for incumbents on their voting records and carefully vet challengers and candidates running in open seats on their responses to our questionnaire,” said Suzanne Budge, NFIB's state director.

The progressive group People's Action endorsed Jordan last week, as did former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

"Our party needs more independent voices like her in the Senate," Reid said. "Rural communities in this country deserve a champion like Paulette fighting for them in Washington. She knows what those communities need because she grew up in one."

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.