Earlier today, Congressman James Lankford announced his candidacy to replace Senator Coburn in Oklahoma. Groups like Senate Conservatives’ Fund and Madison Project (my day-job employer) pointed out that Lankford has gone along with the establishment leadership in the House on a number of critical votes and that he’d offer more of the same in the Senate. They called on Congressman Jim Bridenstine to get in the race. Local conservatives also appear to be pushing Jim to run for Senate. Erick has also called on Jim to run for the seat.
Lankford’s response is both peculiar and telling. Here is what he told The Hill’s Alexandra Jaffe:
“The different Washington, D.C.-based groups and the different special interest groups, they all want to be able to pick who they want to be a senator. They don’t speak for everyone, and they definitely don’t speak for Oklahomans,” he told The Hill in an interview on Monday. […]
But Lankford stood by his vote for the budget deal, which eased some of the sequestration cuts to the defense budget and other programs, as a vote “in favor of strong national defense.”
He suggested attacking him for that vote was an example of the way groups opposed to his candidacy “will loop votes together and try to say that they are something that they are not…that’s the Washington, D.C. game.”
Look, I don’t blame him for being frustrated that people are now examining voting records and public statements for consistency. The internet has empowered grassroots conservatives to shed some light on the legislative process in a way we’ve never seen before. It is certainly exasperating to the Republicans who want to evince the image of a conservative at home right before a campaign, but throw in with the status quo establishment in Washington the rest of their term.
But Lankford’s defense of his budget deal vote is just bizarre. He defends his support for the December Ryan-Murray deal as a vote “in favor of strong national defense.” Presumably, he means that the deal reinstated some of the defense spending by partially repealing the sequester. Here’s the problem: all the spending offsets in the deal were notional or intangible – except for the cuts to military pensions for those already serving! So he defends a vote for increased spending and funding Obamacare as a vote for national defense when the only real spending cut in the bill hurt veterans.
Fast-forward to last week and Lankford voted against the omnibus bill. The omnibus was merely the long-form budget laid out under the blueprint of Ryan-Murray, which he supported. You can’t complain about some of the spending increases which busted the budget caps because that was already set in motion by the December agreement, which, again, Lankford deemed worthy because of the sequester repeal.
Moreover, on some level, at least the omnibus repealed some of the military pension cuts. That’s why some members who opposed Ryan-Murray felt compelled to support the bill. Most other conservatives didn’t fall for the trap and voted no on both. But Lankford voted for Ryan-Murray, supposedly because of better defense spending, yet voted against its blood child bill, which reinstated some of the military pension cuts in the original bill.
If this was such a wondrous bipartisan budget deal opposed only by the “absolutist” conservative groups why did Lankford vote against the omnibus – especially after he supported the FY 2012 omnibus?
The only coherent reason that can be offered is that he wasn’t about to saddle himself with a bad vote a week before his planned Senate announcement.
Yes, my friends, that’s “the Washington, D.C. game.” And despite only being in politics for three years, he has learned to play quite naturally.
Jim Bridenstine, on the other hand, entered Washington by throwing out a weak Republican and has never learned to play the Washington game. He needs to get off the bench and run for the Senate where he can more effectively shut down the game of politics as usual in Washington.