Former Senate Armed Services Chair James Inhofe Dies at 89

Former Senator James M. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee near the end of his 57 years in politics, died July 9 as a result of a stroke he suffered July 4. He was 89.

Inhofe pushed for higher-than-requested defense budgets throughout the Obama and Trump administrations, and backed programs intended to counter a growing and more capable Chinese military. He authored a number of articles arguing that China’s publicly-stated defense spending was well short of its actual outlays, and warned of that country’s rapid modernization and the challenge it posed to the U.S. military.

A staunch supporter and defender of Tinker Air Force Base and the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex in his state, Inhofe also advocated for the platforms, such as the E-3 AWACS, that were serviced in that depot. Inhofe was also a reliable advocate for veteran’s issues.

Toward the end of his time in Congress, Inhofe was the 2022 recipient of AFA’s Stuart Symington Award, the association’s highest civilian award, presented to figures of national influence for their support of the Air Force and the U.S. military.

Inhofe’s advocacy of the F-22 and F-35 fighters, B-21 bomber and KC-46 tanker was considered vital in their development and ultimate procurement.

Drafted into the Army at age 18 and served a year, from 1957 to 1958, Inhofe worked in his father’s insurance business before entering politics.

He served in Oklahoma’s house of representatives from 1966 to 1969, then the Oklahoma Senate from 1969 to 1977. In 1973, while a state senator, he earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Tulsa. The following year, he ran unsuccessfully for the Oklahoma governor’s seat.

In 1976, Inhofe ran unsuccessfully again, this time for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Two years later, he was elected mayor of Tulsa, serving there until 1984.

Inhofe’s second bid for a seat in Congress was successful, and he represented Oklahoma’s 1st district from 1987 to 1994. That year, he was elected to the U.S. Senate where he became an institution, serving 29 years unti retiring in 2023 having become Oklahoma’s longest-serving U.S. Senator.

Inhofe was acting chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in late 2017 while its chair, John McCain (R-Ariz.) battled cancer, and became chairman following McCain’s death. He held the chair until early 2021, when the Senate shifted to Democratic control, and beame Ranking Member until January, 2023.

While on the SASC, Inhofe served on the subcommittees for Airland; Readiness and Management Support; and Strategic Forces.

Inhofe opposed the 2021 U.S withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying the Biden Administration should maintain a small U.S. presence there until the Taliban lived up to the terms it agreed to in the 2020 Doha agreement with the Trump Administration. That agreement—which did not include the government of Afghanistan—set the stage for the U.S. quitting its 20-year war there.

Inhofe held a private pilot’s license and often advocated for pilot issues and aviation modernization.