Every few weeks or so, Sen. Jim Inhofe hops in one of his planes to visit Oklahoma cities and towns.
He’s enjoyed flying for 62 years, and likes stopping by for visits. Norman was one of his destinations Saturday, and the guys in the Max Westheimer Airport tower were more than happy for his arrival.
Without lawmakers like Inhofe, the tower may not even be operating right now.
“Think about what would happen here on game day [without the tower],” Inhofe said.
A few years ago, funding issues put the Westheimer tower, and several others like it that are part of the Federal Aviation Administration Contract Tower Program, in jeopardy.
Ken Carson, aviation program director at the University of Oklahoma, said the actions of lawmakers, including Inhofe, helped keep a community and economic benefit alive.
“I personally believe the contract tower program is a great benefit to the taxpayer,” he said. “We have our elected officials who make those decisions, but we’re glad to have the funding for our Westheimer tower.”
Inhofe and his staffers climbed the spiral staircase up to the control room, where tower manager Phil Miner greeted him with a smile. They had a photo taken with a plaque Miner was proud to pull off the wall and show the senator. It read “2016 Willie F. Card Contract Tower Service Award,” which is awarded annually to one of the 253 contract towers across the nation.
Miner credited the award to Inhofe’s efforts. The senator also drafted the Pilot’s Bill of Rights, both the original and a second bill, laws that provide support to pilots who face the FAA in court.
“All of our elected officials are great supporters,” Carson said. “Aviation does so much for our nation, our country and our economy. Also, great jobs for students. With pilot shortages and air traffic control shortages, they’re just fantastic opportunities.”
• Busy week on the Hill: Inhofe flew into Norman after a busy week in the Senate. At the top of that list was the veto override on the Justice Against Sponsors of Terror Act (JASTA). The act grants U.S. citizens the ability to sue governments of countries for being sponsors of terrorism.
JASTA has also been referred to as the 9/11 bill because it will allow families of the victims in that terrorist attack to sue Saudi Arabia’s government.
President Barack Obama vetoed the bill because he said it would damage America’s standing with a valuable Middle East ally and could put members of the U.S. military in danger.
“On the other hand, this is the way our justice system is supposed to work,” Inhofe said. “I don’t know why the President vetoed the bill. Our position is people should be entitled to their recovery.
“The argument is we could put ourselves in a situation where our military could be hurt. I’m a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and I know that’s not true.”
The Senate also passed a National Defense Authorization Act that, as Inhofe pointed out, blocks the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. A continuing resolution on the current budget also passed, despite initially being blocked.
The current CR provides $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus in the U.S., something Inhofe said is important to him.
“It’s a big deal to some people, and I’m one of those people because I have a grand niece who lives in Florida and is pregnant,” he said. “She is scared to death. It’s what government is supposed to do, anyway.”
Inhofe, however, voted against the CR because, he said, it did not provide funding for the 9,000 unbudgeted troops who were deployed.
• Inhofe on Trump: Much of the news out of the Senate this week was drowned out by the U.S. presidential election. Though an initial supporter of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Inhofe said he is fully behind Republican candidate Donald Trump now as a means of keeping Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton out of office.
“Trump was not my choice. He is now,” Inhofe said. “I’m the chairman of a club in Washington called ‘ABC: Anyone But Clinton.’ [Trump] gets better every time I see him.”
Inhofe said he thought Trump “let himself be on the defensive” during the first presidential debate and won’t let it happen in the next two. He also has faith in the team of advisers he says Trump meets with every week inside Trump Tower to get the candidate up to speed on policy issues.
As far as the election in context, Inhofe said he believes people who say it is the most important the country has ever had, because it’s a choice between change he believes is necessary and four more years of the same policies. He mentioned military spending policies, in particular.
“I never thought we’d have someone that extreme as president of the United States,” Inhofe said about Obama. “We do, and that’s the reason it’s important, because this’ll be four more years of Obama. Our military can’t take it.”