James Inhofe and the art of the bipartisan joke

Political Theater Podcast, Episode 78

Senate Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe and ranking member Jack Reed have a warm relationship that enables them to move bipartisan legislation, something Inhofe discusses in the latest Political Theater podcast. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. James M. Inhofe is one conservative guy, and he is proud of it, trumpeting vote-tracking organizations that peg him as the most right-wing in the chamber. And yet, the Oklahoma Republican has an equally proud history of working with some of his most liberal colleagues on bipartisan legislation. 

As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he and Rhode Island’s Jack Reed, the panel’s ranking Democrat, constructed the highly popular defense authorization bill the last two years. And before that, he worked quite productively with California Democrat Barbara Boxer, the yin to Inhofe’s yang on environmental issues, as leaders of the Environment and Public Works Committee. This, despite Inhofe writing a book that claimed global warming was, as the title attested, “The Greatest Hoax.” And yet, “We prided ourselves in getting things done,” he says. 

So how does Inhofe find ways to break bread with people from the opposite side of the political spectrum? “You can let that unite you. You can make a joke out of it, you can joke around about it,” he says, and then you get down to business on the things you can rally around, which turns out to be quite a lot of things. 

In the latest Political Theater podcast, Inhofe is candid about his friendships with Reed, the retired Boxer and other colleagues on Capitol Hill. And he is equally candid about others he is less impressed with, including Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a presidential candidate and member of the Armed Services panel whom he regards as a bit of a show horse, and two Republican colleagues, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, who have done their own showboating on the floor that has led to Senate leaders cutting short the consequential legislating of measures like the Pentagon policy bill. 

And, not for nothing, he explains the origins of his middle name “Mountain,” which involves family history, as well as a dollop of our own country’s immigration patterns. 

Show notes: 


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