White House Ally Inhofe Succeeds McCain as Senate Armed Services Chair

Senator Jim Inhofe speaks with local reporters at a press conference held at the 138th Fighter Wing August 2, 2018 after announcing the passage of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act. (U.S. National Guard/Staff Sgt. Rebecca R. Imwalle)
Senator Jim Inhofe speaks with local reporters at a press conference held at the 138th Fighter Wing August 2, 2018 after announcing the passage of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act. (U.S. National Guard/Staff Sgt. Rebecca R. Imwalle)

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe has been officially named to succeed the late Sen. John McCain as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in a move that could to put the influential Committee on friendlier terms with the White House.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, announced that Inhofe would become SASC chairman. He had been serving as acting chairman since McCain went home to Arizona in December 2017 to battle glioblastoma, the terminal form of brain cancer that eventually took his life.

McConnell's action instantly made the 83-year-old Inhofe the Senate's leading voice on military and defense policy.

"Jim Inhofe filled in for Sen. McCain during a difficult year," McConnell said. "He rose to the occasion and helped lead the committee in passing crucial legislation that honored the example of his predecessor and the volunteers who defend our nation."

McConnell referred to the $717 billion "John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019," which was steered through the Senate by Inhofe and signed by Trump in August.

Inhofe, who served two years in the Army in the 1950s, has gained notoriety as one of the most outspoken deniers of climate change in Congress.

He is author of the book: "The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future" and has been an opponent of the Navy's "Green Fleet" efforts to develop biodiesel and other forms of alternative fuels for ships and planes.

There has been speculation that Inhofe would go easier on the defense industry in contrast to McCain, whose outbursts against cost overruns were legendary, but Inhofe has also lambasted the industry on big-ticket items.

At a hearing he chaired last year, McCain went after admirals and industry representatives on cost overruns for the littoral combat ship, and also cited previous cost overruns on weapons systems ranging from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the stealthy Zumwalt-class destroyers.

"We're always talking about cost overruns, we're talking about increased costs and delays," Inhofe said. "It's not just the Navy. It's a problem, it's all over."

Inhofe, whose background is in real estate and insurance, was elected to the House in 1986 and to the Senate in 1994. He has served on the Armed Services Committees in both chambers.

When asked earlier this week about his priorities as chairman, Inhofe told reporters that he wanted to delegate more responsibility to the subcommittees, according to various media outlets.

"First of all, a lot heavier use of subcommittees," he said. He added that it was something "I've been wanting to do for a long period of time."

Inhofe last week called McCain "my hero," but also said that the former Vietnam POW and decorated Navy veteran was "partially to blame" for the bitter rift with President Donald Trump that may have led to the dispute on whether flags should be flown at half-staff in his honor until he was interred.

"Well, you know, frankly, I think that John McCain is partially to blame for that because he is very outspoken. He disagreed with the President in certain areas and wasn't too courteous about it," Inhofe told reporters, according to Stars and Stripes and other outlets. He added that both McCain and Trump were "strong-willed people."

Flags atop the White House and on all public buildings and at military bases were lowered to half staff after McCain's death on Saturday Aug. 25. By Monday morning, the White House rooftop flag had been returned to full staff.

Veterans groups and others charged that Trump was failing to show "proper respect."

By late afternoon Monday, Trump relented and the flag went back to half-staff. He also issued a proclamation allowing flags at all federal installations to be flown at half staff until McCain's interment last weekend at the U.S. Naval Academy cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

In one of his last statements, McCain said the defense budget bearing his name "represents an important opportunity to implement an effective approach to confront a growing array of threats."

He said the bill in combination with the National Defense Strategy "outlined a framework for identifying and prioritizing these threats," with an emphasis on building readiness to deter China and Russia.

Inhofe's first task as chairman will be to steer the NDAA through a conference committee with the House to secure full funding for the bill, which includes a 2.6 percent pay raise for the military, from House and Senate appropriators.

At the time of the NDAA's signing, Inhofe said in a statement that the bill had been passed and signed earlier in the year than it had in four decades.

"This historical significance will be lost if we fail to pass appropriations to match the authorization enacted today," he said.

"America is facing new and unprecedented threats that are different from anything we've seen before," Inhofe said in a statement following McConnell's announcement that he would take over as head of SASC. "As chairman, it will be my priority to address these threats while maintaining a staunch commitment to service members and their families, as well as continue the tradition of rigorous accountability and oversight of the Defense Department."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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