The Beginnings Of Jim Inhofe's US Senate Career

Jim Inhofe will step away from his seat in the U.S. Senate in a couple of months. We're looking back this week at Senator Inhofe's career and legacy. Alex Cameron had more from our News On 6 Washington Bureau.

Monday, October 31st 2022, 5:51 pm


In just over two months, Jim Inhofe will step away from his seat in the United States Senate and from a remarkable political career that has spanned seven decades. From state legislator to Mayor of Tulsa to both houses of Congress, Inhofe, 87, has brought staunch conservative values to each job, but made a particular impact in the Senate by understanding the need to compromise.

James Mountain Inhofe’s service in the Senate started, he said, with a humbling experience, one that would influence him for the next 28 years, to this day. He was making his first speech on the senate floor.

"Yeah, I was a little frisky that day," Sen. Inhofe recalled in a recent interview.

Almost three decades later, Inhofe still remembers how he, freshly elected to fill the unexpired term of David Boren, brought the brashness he'd brandished in the House to a Senate debate, after which the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, genial West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, gave Inhofe some advice.

"He said 'Young man, I like your spunk, but this is the United States Senate, this isn’t the House and this is not the way we operate,'" Inhofe said.

Inhofe said Sen. Byrd explained it to him in detail: "If you make enemies, you won’t get anything done," Inhofe remembers Byrd saying, "everything‘s done by unanimous consent and so he said, 'You’re dead in the water, you can’t do that.'"

That advice, Inhofe said now, shaped how he approached his job from that day forward. He said it's a big reason he went on to develop deep and productive friendships with Democrats like former California Senator Barbara Boxer, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, and Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed.

"All of these people are good friends of mine," Inhofe said. "They’re not supposed to be good friends of mine, but they are and we get things done that nobody else could get done."

Inhofe and Boxer alternated as chair and ranking member of the Environment and Public Works committee, which among other things authorizes federal highway funding. He and Sen. Reed are currently the ranking member and chair, respectively, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is responsible for the annual defense authorization bill.

Inhofe said these are the two things -- roads and defense -- that he decided early on in his Senate career that he wanted to focus on.

"You go and read the Constitution," Inhofe said, "the Constitution says there are two main things that we do: one is the military -- we want to defend America -- and the other is infrastructure. So, I got on the committees that are necessary -- Environment and Public Works...and then of course [Armed Services]."

Inhofe said he combined his understanding of the Constitution's mandate with Sen. Byrd's prescient advice and found that he and his friends across the aisle were able to get important work done for the country, something he very proud of as he nears retirement.

"There’s no reason to make enemies over issues," said Sen. Inhofe.


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