A GOP senator from Idaho almost derailed the government shutdown bill because of a decades old fight with a dead political rival

  • Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho caused an hours long delay of the vote on the government spending bill on Thursday.
  • Risch threatened to block the vote over the renaming of a forest for former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, a Democrat.
  • Risch and Andrus were political rivals during their time in the Idaho state government.
  • Andrus died in August.

Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho nearly derailed the massive $US1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill Thursday, just a day before the government shutdown deadline, all over the naming of a forest for a dead political rival.

The funding bill, which was eventually passed, included a provision to rename the White Clouds Wilderness preserve in Idaho after the state’s most recent Democratic governor, Cecil Andrus, who died in August.

Risch demanded that Senate leaders remove the provision from the bill or he would use a procedural objection to block a vote. The only problem is that any edit of the massive 2,232 page bill would have required the House to re-vote on it, pushing Congress dangerously close to the Friday shutdown deadline.

CNN reported that Risch and Andrus clashed in during their time in state government. In the 1980s, Risch was majority leader of the Idaho state Senate and fought with Andrus, then the governor, over education funding.

“Risch is one of the most partisan people I’ve ever had to deal with,” Andrus said in a 2008 profile of Risch. The article was passed around the Capitol as an explanation for the objection.

The provision was added by GOP Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho. Simpson praised Andrus when a separate bill to rename the preserve passed the House. That bill did not receive Senate consideration, so it appears Simpson fought to get it included in the must-pass spending bill.

Since the omnibus bill was only released Wednesday night, there was little time to address the issue before the fight on Thursday.

Risch refused to address the problem Thursday.

“What part of ‘No’ don’t you understand?” Risch told reporters. “Do I have a problem with my English? I don’t have any comment.”

The debate continued for several hours as Risch met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about the problem and refused to drop the objection until the leaders agreed to add a separate procedural vote to possibly reverse the naming.

The House would still need to approve that change, but the hold was lifted after the agreement and the omnibus finally passed just after midnight.

Risch voted against the funding bill.