WASHINGTON — Rep. James Lankford, finishing just his first term in Congress, has apparently locked down a position in the House Republican leadership, the latest surprising move for the Oklahoma City lawmaker, who was running a Baptist youth camp only three years ago.
After weeks of behind-the-scenes work to gauge interest in the post, Lankford announced Thursday that he would seek the chairmanship of the House Republican Policy Committee. Lankford said in an interview that he didn't know of any other members running for the position, the fifth-ranking spot in the Republican leadership hierarchy.
The House GOP leadership elections are scheduled for next week.
The policy committee doesn't handle legislation and has no clout in setting the House agenda. It is, rather, more like a think tank composed of lawmakers. The committee works on developing House Republican positions on issues like energy, taxes and health care.
Lankford said Thursday, “I'm not one who has a passion for politics. I do have a passion for ideas.”
He acknowledged that the Republican-controlled House was going to have to compromise with President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate but said that wouldn't influence the products developed by the policy committee.
“I don't think the policy changes or the solutions change,” he said, adding that it would be up to other leaders to determine how Republican positions would be shaped in negotiations with Democrats.
Lankford, 44, has been a favorite of House Republican leaders since coming to Congress. In April of 2011, just four months after being sworn in to his first term, he was tapped to give the GOP response to Obama's weekly address.
He was the director of the Falls Creek youth camp and a political neophyte in 2009 when he began running for Congress and wound up knocking off two experienced and well-funded GOP primary candidates with a grass-roots campaign.
Lankford got 59 percent of the vote Tuesday in winning a second term in the district that includes most of Oklahoma County, Pottawatomie County and Seminole County.
Twenty years ago, another Oklahoma City Republican was chairman of his party's policy committee — former Rep. Mickey Edwards. Former Sen. Don Nickles, of Ponca City, was chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee for six years.