Jim Risch in Pocatello

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, second from right, stands with members of the local AMVETS honor guard on Tuesday in Pocatello.

POCATELLO — U.S. Sen. Jim Risch predicts polling data for the Nov. 3 election will prove to be off target, the Democrats will “pack” the Supreme Court if they seize the White House and Senate and a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready by Jan. 1.

Risch, R-Idaho, shared his bold prognostications while addressing the Pocatello Rotary Club during a Tuesday luncheon, amid a full day of events he hosted in Southeast Idaho.

Risch — who is running against Democrat Paulette Jordan to retain his seat — said regardless of which candidate wins the presidency, he hopes it’s by a landslide to enable a divided nation to move forward after the election’s end.

“I know one thing with absolute certainty and that is the polls are wrong. I just don’t know which way and I don’t know by how much,” Risch said, adding if the ultimate victor wins big it will help the public to “turn the page.”

As he spoke, confirmation hearings were underway in Washington, D.C., for Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee to replace recently deceased Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Risch described Barrett as “uniquely qualified.”

“I found her to be of very sound character — incredibly intellectual and something very near and dear to my heart, and that is conservative,” Risch said.

Critics have accused the Republicans of hypocrisy in their rush to fill a Supreme Court seat even as early voting in a presidential election is underway, following the Republican Senate’s decision against granting a hearing to President Barack Obama’s 2016 election-year nominee, Merrick Garland.

Risch noted that presidents have historically moved ahead with appointments during election years, and Senates of the opposite party have typically voted against them.

“Gee, what a shock!” Risch said.

Risch acknowledges the U.S. Constitution would also allow for additional seats to be added to the Supreme Court if the Democrats sweep the election, though he considers that prospect to be “troubling.” Risch predicted under Democrat control, the Senate would dispense with the filibuster to allow Supreme Court seats to be added by a mere majority vote.

“What (Democrats) tell me is, ‘If you confirm her, we’re going to up the Supreme Court by at least a couple more people, and maybe more,’ so the Supreme Court will go from nine to 11 or nine to 15, and they will do it if they take over the presidency and they take over the Senate.”

Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Risch said it could have been contained if the Chinese government had been more forthright with the world, and he credited President Trump with taking swift action on the issue. Early on, Risch said the Chinese quarantined the City of Wuhan, where the virus originated. Well aware of the health risk, Risch said the Chinese nonetheless allowed people from Wuhan to fly elsewhere in the world.

“The president was the very first world leader to actually do something about it, not withstanding all of the criticism that you hear about it,” Risch said. “He closed the U.S. to any immigration by the people of China into the U.S.”

In Risch’s opinion, China represents the most significant foreign relations threat to the U.S. in the world, and by a wide margin.

“If they’re going to operate on the world stage and do good things for their people, they need to adopt a rule of law and just as importantly enforce the rule of law and embrace international norms,” Risch said.

Risch noted that the nation has faced six viruses since 2003, all of which were unique but ran their course relatively quickly.

“I really believed this would run its course,” Risch said. “It’s obvious now this won’t run its course until we get a vaccine.”

Fortunately, Risch said there are five vaccines in stage-three trials, though he said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine recently encountered a hiccup.

“I really believe we’ll have a vaccine before the first of the year,” Risch said.

Risch emphasized that the drug companies — not politicians — will make the decision about when a vaccine is safe for release. He implored the public not to worry about the possibility that a vaccine may have been rushed for political reasons.

“It’s going to be an easy choice because the company itself is going to make the choice about whether or not to release it,” Risch said.