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James Inhofe Tries Out Role of Diplomat

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (right) praised ranking member James Inhofe’s attempts to woo the House GOP on the highway bill.

In his conversations with freshmen and other House conferees, Inhofe has said, “And this comes from my heart. I told these freshmen that I’m still in shock that Barbara Boxer worked so close with me on these reforms,” things like transportation enhancements and other changes to highway and transit programs that have long been sought by Republicans.

“I told the young people, ‘We’re starting way ahead than I thought we’d have to start,’” Inhofe said.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) praised Inhofe’s efforts.

“We have a great working relationship,” Mica said, adding that Inhofe is “very actively engaged and trying to bridge the gap between the House and the Senate.”

In fact, most House conferees agreed  that Inhofe has done a good job of reaching out to them — something many have complained has been lacking from most Senators. “Sen. Inhofe has done a good job,” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said.

Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) called Inhofe a “rock-solid conservative [who is] using his credentials to come over to the House. ... I think people listen to him.

“He’s worked hard to make a bipartisan agreement over there, and now it’s time to get a bicameral one,” Lankford added.

But for House Republicans, that difference between a Senate bipartisan deal and a bicameral agreement is the chief sticking point.

“This is a bicameral process, and while I understand it was bipartisan over there, I’d like both he and Sen. Boxer to engage more with the House and get a real give-and-take going,” Shuster said.

Lankford agreed, warning bluntly that “the guys I’m talking to over here say, ‘It’s great to hear from the Senator, but I’m not accountable to him. I’m accountable to my constituents.’”

Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), who, like Lankford, is one of a handful of freshmen on the conference, complained that Members from the “upper chamber” have not appeared interested in engaging with the House counterparts. “I’ve noticed that a common theme among Senators, as well as the president, [is] to ignore that there’s a people’s House,” Southerland said. He noted, “I’ve been to five working group meetings, and I still haven’t seen a Senator. I wouldn’t give my voting card to another Member, and I’m not going to hand that responsibility over to my staff.”

Inhofe adamantly disagreed with the notion that the Senate is not interested in a bicameral bill.

“No, no, we’re not doing that. We’re soliciting from them … what they want to do,” Inhofe said, chalking up part of the frustration to the fact that “we [went] into conference with a bill on our side and a skeleton on their side,” meaning that the Senate was much further along in passing a full reauthorization measure than the House.

“While we had a bipartisan bill over here, we didn’t have a bicameral one. And we’re getting that now,” Inhofe stressed.

Despite all of this, there are signs of life.

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