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David and Goliath

"David and Goliath" Continued...

Issue: "Surviving Syria," June 1, 2013

Lankford isn’t afraid to share his biblical approach to lawmaking—even with President Barack Obama. In March, Obama visited the Republican Conference to field questions, and Lankford went first: He told the president the story of Hezekiah, a good king who made some foolish decisions and wasn’t concerned about the consequences, since the prophet Isaiah said judgment would come in future generations. Lankford told Obama that Washington politicians are doing the same thing with their children’s future and asked if they could agree in principle that the budget needs to be balanced. Obama couldn’t agree. 

It wasn’t the first time Lankford tangled with the president. Last year, Lankford spearheaded a bipartisan, bicameral effort to crack down on human trafficking by government contractors. Legislation passed the House and was awaiting action in the Senate when Obama—five weeks before the 2012 election—used large portions of Lankford’s bill to issue an executive order, then called a press conference to tout his administration’s effort to combat human trafficking. White House staff later acknowledged to Lankford that it was his initiative they borrowed. 

Back in Lankford’s office, his glass-top coffee table holds a reminder of what he says is the most important problem facing the country: the federal debt. In the display sits an authentic $100 trillion bill (that’s $100,000,000,000,000) from Zimbabwe, where corruption, prolific spending, and the government’s printing of massive amounts of money led to hyperinflation. “That would not even buy a loaf of bread” when the African country’s economy collapsed, Lankford said. “If you continue to print money and think that’s going to fix the debt problem, it doesn’t. It just accelerates the demise of your economy.”

When Lankford speaks to Oklahoma business leaders he stays on the national debt: “If we do not resolve our debt issue, and we don’t get in balance, what we have known as a structured economy will begin to fall apart,” he told me. “And a lot of other things won’t matter at that point.” 

Many in Lankford’s congressional class share his view, and they have more numbers to do something about it: The 2010 Republican class comprises more than one-third of the GOP majority, making it the largest class of the Republican conference that Lankford chairs. “This is a pretty extraordinary rise, to move this far this fast, and without alienating your peers,” Cole said.

Cole and other lawmakers believe Lankford could eye other offices—Oklahoma governor, Speaker of the House, or U.S. Senator. But Lankford said running for Congress wasn’t on his radar, so he won’t guess what God has in store for him next. “My calling is to the person of Christ and when He said, ‘Follow me,’ I follow Him,” he said. “[When] He assigns me His tasks, that’s what I do.”

Questions and answers

Lankford draws out key Clinton responsibility during May Benghazi hearing

DIRECT STYLE: Lankford during the hearing on Benghazi.
Associated Press/Photo by Cliff Owen
DIRECT STYLE: Lankford during the hearing on Benghazi.

Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., almost didn’t get named to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) until fellow Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole went to bat for him shortly after he arrived in Washington in 2011. Committee chairman Darrell Issa consented to the late addition and told Cole a few weeks later, “I thought I was doing you a favor, but it turns out you were doing me a favor.” 

Lankford’s non-combative but direct style has earned respect from leadership and troves of information from witnesses. He became a point person in the investigation into the Justice Department’s Fast and Furious campaign, voting with the majority to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. Holder withheld information relating the sale of guns in Mexico that later ended up in the hands of drug cartels. 

In May he played a key role in drawing out State Department whistleblowers over the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Democrats said requests for additional security facilities in Libya never reached former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s desk (echoing Clinton’s sworn testimony in February). Lankford cast doubts on that claim in a brief exchange with witnesses Gregory Hicks, former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya, and Eric Nordstrom, a regional security officer (RSO) in Libya:

Lankford: “Mr. Hicks, when you arrived in July, did the facilities in Benghazi meet the minimum OSPB [Overseas Security Policy Board] security standards set by the State Department?”

Hicks: “According to the regional security office—at the time in Tripoli, John Martinec—they did not.”

Lankford: “What about the facilities in Tripoli?”

Hicks: “Again, according to the regional office, John Martinec, they were very weak.”

Lankford: “Were they close to meeting the standards?”

Hicks: “No, sir.”

Lankford: “Mr. Nordstrom, before you left as RSO, did the facilities have the number of security personnel that you had requested?”

Nordstrom: “No, they did not.”

Lankford: “There are a very, very small number of facilities worldwide that are considered by GAO [Government Accountability Office] critical or high threat level for personnel in our different embassies and consulates. Tripoli and Benghazi—were they listed as high threat level?”

Nordstrom: “They were.”

Lankford: “By statute, who has the authority to place personnel in facilities that do not meet minimum OSPB standards?”

Nordstrom: “… Since we were the sole occupants of both of those facilities, Benghazi and Tripoli, the only person who could grant waivers or exceptions to those is the secretary of state [Hillary Clinton].”

Nordstrom had drafted some of the requests for additional security and expected them to reach Clinton, who visited Libya in 2011 and had made normalizing relations a top priority. Lankford told me only two options exist: “Either she should have known, or she did know.” 

Lankford was pleased with the information revealed at the May 8 hearing, but he said much remains to be solved, including why security was so porous that diplomats requested gun training, and who gave special operations forces orders to stand down while the attack continued. —J.C.D.

J.C. Derrick
J.C. Derrick

J.C. is a reporter in WORLD's Washington Bureau. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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