Jim Risch

Bush-era torture memos cast doubt on human rights nominee’s approval
Sen. Robert Menendez said the administration had not been transparent on two separate matters relating to Billingslea’s background

Marshall Billingslea prepares to testify during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in 2017.  Billingslea’s nomination is in doubt because lawmakers say the Trump administration has not turned over information relating to Billingslea’s background. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The future of a Trump nominee to serve as the executive branch’s highest-ranking human rights official is in doubt following a difficult Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearing and lawmakers’ frustration over how the nomination has been muscled through.

With last week’s confirmation hearing of Marshall Billingslea to be the next undersecretary of State for civilian security, democracy and human rights, Committee Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, broke with a decades-long tradition of agreement between the Republican and Democratic panel leaders when scheduling committee hearings and markups.

Issa hearing delayed after dispute over background investigation
Democratic Sen. Menendez says White House has ignored its requests for additional information

Former Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., nominee to be director of the Trade and Development Agency, leaves the Dirksen Senate Office Building after his confirmation hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was postponed on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A confirmation hearing for former Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, who was nominated to a key trade post, was interrupted and then delayed on Thursday as the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee fought over information in Issa’s FBI file that could be potentially disqualifying.

Committee Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, had decided to hold confirmation hearings for two nominees whose FBI background files contained classified and potentially disqualifying information that the White House declined to release to anyone other than Risch and ranking Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

New national security adviser faces personality test with Trump’s inner circle
Robert O’Brien is largely a blank slate on policy, which could help him manage internal disagreements

Robert C. OBrien, serving as special envoy for President Donald Trump, arrives at a courthouse in Stockholm during the rapper A$AP Rocky assault trial in August. (Michael Campanella/Getty Images file photo)

Internal debates during President Donald Trump’s first two and a half years in office have been marked by acrimony, tension and high-stakes negotiations. So perhaps it was no surprise that Trump named as his fourth national security adviser the State Department’s lead hostage negotiator, Robert C. O’Brien.

No president has had so many national security advisers in his first term. However long O’Brien lasts in the job, his tenure will be defined less by his policy views and more by how he manages disagreements within Trump’s inner circle.

Lawmakers press to keep Myanmar sanctions in defense bill
Statement comes in conjunction with second anniversary of forced migration of Rohingya Muslims

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel is among the lawmakers pushing to keep Myanmar sanctions in the defense bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Top lawmakers are using Sunday’s anniversary of the forced migration of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to encourage defense negotiators to keep new sanctions in the annual defense policy bill.

Legislative language based on bipartisan House and Senate legislation is included in the House-passed version of the fiscal 2020 defense authorization, and the members of both chambers leading the sanctions effort are calling on their colleagues to not remove the language in conference negotiations with the Senate. The measure would require sanctions to be imposed on senior military officials.

The GOP is confirming Trump judicial nominees it stalled under Obama
Judges couldn’t get a vote when Obama was president. They’re getting on the bench under Trump

From left, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch, Vice President Mike Pence, and former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) in 2017. Gorsuch was confirmed after McConnell had blocked President Barack Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland. (Al Drago/Pool/The New York Times)

At least 10 judicial nominees who couldn’t even get a confirmation vote in the final years of President Barack Obama’s administration ended up on the bench after Donald Trump’s election.  

Those nominees, blocked by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans while Obama was in the White House, got a second chance. Rather than blocking them under Trump, McConnell sought to speed up the confirmation process. Thanks to the shift in political priorities, Republicans confirmed them with bipartisan support.

White House mulls slimmed-down foreign aid cuts package
Pompeo said to urge Trump not to use budgetary end-run

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly urged President Donald Trump to back away from a plan to rescind more than $4 billion in foreign aid previously approved by Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Trump administration plan to do an end-run around Congress and cancel more than $4 billion in previously approved foreign aid funds could be scaled back, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged President Donald Trump to back away from the idea in a phone call Monday night.

Details of the conversation between Pompeo, Trump and acting White House budget chief Russell Vought were shared by several individuals close to the foreign aid sector. A senior administration official declined to comment, other than to say it was a private conversation.

White House lifts pause on State, USAID spending
The move comes after a flurry of congressional criticism of OMB's funding freeze

The White House has agreed to release certain State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding after it had been temporarily frozen. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The White House has released certain funds appropriated for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development that over the weekend had been temporarily frozen, a senior administration official said Friday.

The action comes after the Office of Management and Budget told those two agencies to cease spending for a range of programs that still have unobligated fiscal 2018 and 2019 balances, and would otherwise expire if not spent by Sept. 30.

White House blocks foreign aid funds, demands accounting
Affected money could total $4 billion appropriated for public health, peacekeeping, development and diplomacy programs

The White House budget office has directed the U.S. Agency for International Development, led by Mark Green, above, to cease spending for a range of programs while the administration reviews how much money is left in the various accounts. (Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit file photo)

For the second year in a row, the White House appears to be considering canceling billions of dollars in appropriated foreign aid funding at a time when Congress would be hard-pressed to block such a move.

Over the weekend, the Office of Management and Budget wrote to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development directing the foreign aid agency to cease spending for a range of programs that still have unobligated fiscal 2018 and 2019 balances and would otherwise expire if not spent by Sept. 30.

Risch drops Saudi measure; panel backs Menendez sanctions bill
Sends strong message of displeasure with the Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, left, withdrew his own Saudi legislation after the committee voted to amend it by adding a sanctions bill from ranking member Robert Menendez, D-N.J., right. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday advanced to the floor bipartisan legislation that would impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, though the panel’s chairman said he would “absolutely not” recommend it be brought up for a vote.

Chairman Jim Risch withdrew his own Saudi legislation after the committee voted to amend it by adding ranking member Robert Menendez’s sanctions bill to it. In the end, only the Menendez bill was reported to the floor.

State Department aides won’t rule out existing authorizations allowing for attack on Iran
Officials would not commit on seeking congressional approval for military action, either

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, left, and ranking member Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., look to reconcile differences over congressional authorization for the use of military force. (File photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senior State Department officials wouldn’t commit to a Senate panel Wednesday that the Trump administration will seek congressional authorization for a potential military conflict with Iran, nor would they promise that existing military authorizations would not be reinterpreted to allow attacks on Iran.

Rather, the Trump administration officials said they would consult and inform lawmakers of any administration plans to carry out military strikes on Iran, including actions related to the defense of U.S. troops and partner forces.