Lankford is playing a key role keeping the rank and file of the GOP conference on board with leadership priorities.
Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., recalled such an occasion at a recent meeting about the sequester. Lankford reminded the group that spending cuts are a win for Republicans but could quickly become a negative if the party overplays its hand.
“Don’t gloat. That was his point,” Southerland said. “You’ve got be to very sensitive. Be humble and even when you get something, recognize the ramifications that what we do here affects people, real people.”
The 45-year-old Lankford was first elected to the House in 2010, winning a safe GOP seat in an open-seat race against a former state legislator who was backed by the party establishment.
Lankford’s is a decidedly biblical humility, borne of a deep religious upbringing that culminated in a career of more than a decade as the director of the largest Baptist youth camp in the United States — Falls Creek in the Arbuckle Mountains of southern Oklahoma.
While his ultimate leadership ambitions remain unclear, his demeanor has earned him the respect of a broad swath of the conference and a loyal base, including Southerland, whom Lankford advised to run for leadership.
“He has become a guy that I confide in and seek counsel from because he’s a wise man,” Southerland said. “He tries to do no harm. He is an upright man. He tries to be respectful yet assertive. And scripture is the code by which he conducts his life.”
That was the tenor with which he addressed the president recently, as Lankford told Obama the Old Testament story of Isaiah’s prophecy about King Hezekiah. He had saved Jerusalem for his lifetime but set it up for destruction later, Lankford said, tying the story into a plea to balance the budget.
It was not the first time Lankford spoke with Obama and not even the first time he addressed him in terms of faith. On Inauguration Day in January, Lankford briefly met Obama in Statuary Hall during the inaugural luncheon.
“I reminded him that there are many people in my district who pray for the president — including me,” Lankford said. “I want him to know that there is a philosophical divide, but there is a human element to this as well.”
The president responded: “I believe in the power of prayer.”