Sen. Jim Inhofe talks heart surgery, health insurance and politics

In an interview during his first week back after emergency heart surgery, the Tulsa Republican says he wasn't scared of dying, he couldn't back Chris Christie for president and Don't Ask, Don't Tell works for him.
by Chris Casteel Modified: November 10, 2013 at 7:00 pm •  Published: November 10, 2013
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A: There's a choice, and the mail handlers (insurance plan) is one of about five you choose from. Frankly, I chose that way back when I was in the House, and I can't remember why I did at that time. Our needs are so much different than others because we only have two of us.

Q: Is it that insurance that will cover all of your hospitalization and surgery?

A: It won't cover it all. I'm not sure what it will cover.

Q: So you don't get any Medicare money then?

A: (Inhofe turned to his chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, and said, “You'll have to help me with this.” Jackson explained that Inhofe has Medicare Part A — hospitalization — coverage but that the senator's private insurer would be the first payer for the recent surgery and care.)

Q: So I guess it's fair to say this isn't something you've ever really had to dig into the details of much.

A: I really never have. I know it's important. I just have other things that are more important.

Q: Given the almost $500 billion that the Department of Defense is already having to cut and however much sequestration is going to add, do you expect Oklahoma is going to have far fewer military jobs over the next 10 years?

A: We have done remarkably well under the constraints we have had and I think we'll continue to do that.

It will be a loss of jobs. It will probably be some of our functions, maybe missions. (The munitions depot in) McAlester, for instance. If we're in the position where we're knocking down some of our brigades, there will be less training. If there's less training, there's less artillery to use, there's less ammo. The ammo depot will be reduced probably somewhat because they're gutting our military. The same thing would be true at Vance (Air Force Base near Enid) ... There will be fewer pilots training.

Q: Given the reductions that are obviously going to be there in the Defense Department budget, why not give them another round of base closures?

A: I'll tell you why. The one thing that is certain on base closures — in the first five years, you lose a lot of money. And we can't afford to lose the money at this time. I keep thinking this is still America and help is on its way. The 2014 elections should have a positive effect on our military and 2016.

Q Immediately after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's re-election victory (on Nov. 5), there was talk of him running for president. Could you support Chris Christie for president?

A: I'd have a hard time supporting Chris Christie.

Q: What about the talk that for the Republicans to win they're going to have to find someone who has crossover appeal like Christie does?

A: I can't think of a time in the history of my association with the Republican Party when that debate hasn't gone on ... I'm of the school that you've got to show a distinction between Democrats and Republicans. And in order to have the base energized, you've got to show that the party stands for something. Christie I still hold responsible for ... the re-election of Obama.

Q: Because of Sandy (hurricane relief)?

A: And the way he handled it, yeah.

Q: There's also talk that there's not going to be a viable candidate come out of this town, that it's going to have to come from one of the states because of the animosity in the country toward Washington.

A: That may be. I've thought that way before. However, we have some potentials now that we didn't have before. (Florida Sen.) Marco Rubio is one of them.

Q: Would you support either Rubio or Cruz?

A: I like them both but probably Rubio because of the length of time he's been in this thing and the experience he's had in Florida. I agree that we might need to find a viable candidate outside this town. But they're kind of considered to be outside this town.

Q: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, you are opposed to it. Why?

A: Well, they have a lot of things, amendments that we wanted to get on, in terms of religious freedom. And then generally, to try to treat people differently, I just don't think it's necessary for government to do.

Q: I remember you telling the Tulsa World many years ago that you would never hire a gay person.

A: I never told them that. It wasn't that I'd never hire, I said I never had.

Q: OK.

A: Then I found out later I had and didn't know it.

Q: Then let me ask the question now, would you?

A: My feeling is the same as the old Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the military. In 1998, I never thought that would have worked as well as it worked. But if you oppose changing that, then you're saying you're allowing someone to use his sexual orientation to advance his agenda ... Later on, I found out that Don't Ask, Don't Tell worked very well in the military.

Q: So that's not a concern for you in hiring people. You don't ask.

A: I don't think I've ever had the occasion of asking anyone. (Inhofe turned to his communications director). I hired you. Did I ask you?

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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