WASHINGTON — Rep. James Lankford, reaching another stage in his fast rise in politics, secured a spot Wednesday on the House Republican leadership team.
The Oklahoma City freshman, who has been meeting face-to-face with his Republican colleagues for weeks to win support, ran unopposed for chairman of the House Policy Committee, the fifth-ranking position in the House GOP hierarchy.
The policy committee has no responsibility to pass legislation or hold hearings; it functions more like a think tank, developing positions on issues and distributing information to other members.
“It's working with individuals and committee leadership and the speaker's office and trying to move this piece of legislation and this idea,” Lankford said in an interview after he won the post.
“It's hearing all the voices in our conference, bringing information to them. … Helping individual members who are weak on a policy idea get up on that area of policy. Also making sure that as we approach the actual writing of the bill that we're comfortable with where we're headed on it.”
On the agenda
When he takes over the spot for the Congress that begins in January, the policy committee will be working on tax reform, immigration, entitlement reform and “obviously spending, the big animal we have to deal with, the $16 trillion debt,” he said.
Some other Republican members were interested in the post when it became clear that the current chairman, Georgia Rep. Tom Price, would run for another leadership spot, but Lankford nailed down the position without a race.
Asked how he was able, as a freshman, to round up the support, Lankford said, “I really couldn't even tell you.”
He pointed to his work earlier this year on forging a compromise on a two-year highway bill as a chance to interact with House leaders and numerous other members.
“I think we gained some trust through that process and some favor from individuals who said, ‘OK, I think this guy can do it,'” Lankford said Wednesday.
House leaders tapped him last year to give the response to President Barack Obama's weekly address to the nation — Lankford spoke about energy — and he has been interviewed frequently on national television. He was also made chairman last year of a House subcommittee.
Lankford, 44, came seemingly out of nowhere in 2010 to win the Republican nomination for the 5th Congressional District seat. He was director of a Baptist youth camp and a political novice when he beat two well-funded Republicans with state legislative experience. He easily won the general election that year, and won his second term last week in the district that includes most of Oklahoma County and Seminole and Pottawatomie counties.
Focus on policy
Lankford said Wednesday that his interest in the policy committee wasn't indicative of an ambition to climb the leadership ladder. He said his focus was on policy, rather than politics.
“We came to here make a difference,'' he said. “Once we kind of determined that's a way to do it, we went after it.”
His leadership position also gives him a seat on the panel that chooses committee assignments, which could benefit two incoming Republican freshmen from Oklahoma — Jim Bridenstine, of Tulsa, and Markwayne Mullin, of Westville.