Risch emerges as national spokesman for filibuster on gun control

Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch has appeared on CNN, NPR and CBS in the last 24 hours to make the case for blocking a vote on legislation beefing up background checks in the wake of December’s school shooting in Connecticut.

Tuesday night, Risch was described by CNN’s Anderson Cooper as the only one among 14 senators backing a filibuster who would agree to appear on his show. Risch and Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo joined 12 colleagues in a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Monday saying they would support a filibuster to stop a vote on gun-control legislation.

Crapo hasn’t yet appeared in national media, but has spoken on the radio in Idaho about his support of a filibuster. Crapo had inquiries from CNN, MSNBC and the New York Times but was unable to accommodate the requests, spokesman Lindsay Nothern said. Crapo may appear later on CNN’s “The Lead” with Jake Tapper.

Risch conceded on CNN that Reid, with the help of Republicans including Arizona Sen. John McCain, will be able to muster the 60 votes necessary to stop a filibuster, limit debate and force a vote.

“I think there’s clearly 60 votes to override a filibuster,” Risch told Cooper. “There’s going to be a debate this week.”

Added Risch: “I’m committed to defeat any legislation that interferes with a law-abiding citizen’s right under the Constitution — which is a right just like freedom speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association in Amendment One. Amendment Two gives every American the right to keep and bear arms.”

Risch appeared on “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday to defend the Senate’s long filibuster tradition, which allows unlimited debate unless 60 of 100 senators vote to invoke “cloture,” setting an end to debate and clearing the way for voting on a bill and amendments.

“Well, the filibuster is simply a tactic to stop the bill from passing,” Risch said on CBS. “If you’re successful on the filibuster, it’s over, it’s done, and that would be my preference.”

Risch told Gayle King, Norah O’Donnell and Charlie Rose on CBS that background checks are ineffective:  “One of the problems we have here is this debate here now is focusing on expanding a background check system that simply does not work and casts a burden on people that are exercising a Constitutional right. And I think everybody has to accept that this is a Constitutional right, the right to keep and bear arms. Having said that, we should start the debate beginning at what we all believe – what everyone believes – that you should keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them – convicted felons and people who have serious mental difficulties.”

In an interview aired Tuesday afternoon on National Public Radio, host Melissa Block asked Risch: “Are you afraid that if there is an up and down vote, an up or down vote, on the gun control bill, that it would pass, and why not let that vote happen?”

Replied Risch:  “No, we’re not afraid of anything. What’s going to happen is there’s going to be a motion to proceed to the bill. Those of us who feel strongly about protecting this constitutional right will vote no. There won’t be 60 of us. We’ll proceed to the bill. There’ll be discussion on the amendments. There will then be a motion to proceed to a vote on it. Again, many of us will vote no. If they get 60 of them, then we’ll proceed to vote on the bill.”

Risch also expressed sympathy for the families of the 20 children and six adults killed in Newtown, Conn. He told Block: “One thing that should be mentioned right at the outset here is the fact that this in no way denigrates the terrible tragedy and the — and what happened to the people in Newtown or the other tragedies that we’ve had. As far as firearms deaths are concerned, they’re awful. They’re terrible. I’m a father and a grandfather. I just – I can’t imagine if you had someone who was caught in it.”

The original filibuster letter  includes the signatures of 13 senators. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., subsequently joined the effort.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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