WASHINGTON — Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, a defense hawk and frequent traveler to domestic and overseas military bases, is poised to become the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
If the move gains approval from Senate Republicans, Inhofe, of Tulsa, would take over the spot from Arizona Sen. John McCain when the new Congress begins in January.
“It's not done yet, but I think it will be done,” Inhofe said in an interview on Wednesday.
Senate Republicans have six-year term limits for their top committee spots.
Inhofe will be giving up his spot as the top Republican — or ranking member — on the Environment and Public Works Committee, where he has helped author highway bills and gained international notice for his crusade against legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Inhofe, of Tulsa, has served on the Armed Services committee since being sworn into the U.S. Senate 18 years ago this month and has been a fierce advocate for Oklahoma's military installations, fighting all efforts to cut back units or weapons systems relevant to the state's bases.
In the mid-1990s, he waged a long-running — and ultimately unsuccessful — battle against President Bill Clinton's administration's plan to privatize Air Force maintenance jobs in San Antonio that would have otherwise moved to Tinker Air Force Base. And early in President George W. Bush's administration, he fought the decision to kill development of a new Army cannon; after losing that battle, he won funding for research on a smaller replacement cannon.
The Armed Services Committee helps establish policy and spending priorities for the Department of Defense. It is also holds hearings for those nominated by the president to top civilian and uniformed positions at the department.
The chairman of the committee is Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat. Inhofe praised Levin on Wednesday.
“He has always been exceptionally fair,” Inhofe said. “He genuinely wants to advance our systems and put us in a superior position.”
Inhofe, who will turn 78 on Saturday, is a regular visitor to Oklahoma's military bases and has traveled to numerous bases across the country and around the world. He visited Iraq 10 times after the 2003 invasion and has gone to Afghanistan 11 times since the U.S. has been at war there.
His interest in Africa has led him to push for more military involvement on that continent.
Inhofe has frequently charged President Barack Obama with seeking to gut defense spending and said Wednesday that one of his main goals would be to protect the Pentagon budget.