Washington Week in Review: Senate advances defense spending plan; Harjo named poet laureate
Washington – The U.S. Senate voted to proceed to a major defense measure sponsored by Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe amid escalating tensions with Iran, the House approved its first minibus spending bill without a crucial budget agreement and Tulsa native Joy Harjo made history by becoming the first Native American to be named the nation’s Poet Laureate.
Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, cited threats from rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea in his floor comments on the annual National Defense Authorization Act.
“The world is more unstable and dangerous than any time in my lifetime,” said the 84-year-old Republican.
Easily winning a procedural 89-10 vote to advance with Inhofe and Sen. James Lankford (R-OK voting with the majority, S. 1790 would support $750 billion for the next fiscal year and prioritize strategic competition with China and Russia.
It also would authorize a number of Oklahoma priorities such as reforms for privatized military housing, an important issue for Tinker Air Force Base.
With an open amendment process, the Senate is expected to be on the measure for several days.
Inhofe, Lankford oppose arms sales resolutions
In other votes involving defense that underscored differences among Republicans, the Senate approved several resolutions designed to block President Trump’s emergency arms sales to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
Inhofe and Lankford voted against the resolutions, which were combinations of several separate resolutions.
They passed by tallies of 53 to 45 and 51 to 45, short of what would be needed to overcome a Trump veto.
Critics of the arms sales argued Trump is using a fake emergency and is exempting the sales from Congressional action.
Supporters cited the actions of Iran and its proxies, adding the arms sales are needed to address the security needs of nations the U.S. Supports.
House pushing appropriations bill
On the House side, Democratic leaders pushed ahead with their chamber’s first minibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020 even though they have yet to reach a significant budget agreement with Senate Republicans and the White House.
A budget agreement would set the amount of funding available to appropriators and help avoid a government shutdown in the fall as well as significant spending cuts that would kick in automatically later this year.
Negotiations continue between congressional leaders and White House officials, and progress has been reported.
Still, the Republican-controlled Senate has not moved ahead with its versions of the spending bills while the Democratic majority in the House approved its first minibus and began action on its second.
Passed by a largely party-line vote of 226-203, the first House measure, H.R. 2740, would provide $982.8 billion for energy and water programs, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and those in education, defense, labor and health and human services.
Oklahoma’s five-member House delegation split along party lines with Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK5) voting for the bill and Reps. Kevin Hern (R-OK1) Markwayne Mullin (R-OK2), Frank Lucas (R-OK3) and Tom Cole (R-OK4) voting against it.
Key Democrats promoted the minibus bill for not only providing what they termed as robust funding for the various agencies but rejecting Trump’s huge spending cuts and outright elimination of certain programs.
Explaining their opposition to the bill, Republicans said it has become too partisan and ignored too many of the president’s priorities to ever be signed into law.
Hern joins House Republican whip team
Hern announced he had joined the House Republican whip team, which works with party leaders on legislation.
“It’s an honor to join this group of my peers to advance President Trump’s pro-growth agenda that has transformed the American economy in the last two years,” he said.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) welcomed Hern to his team, citing the freshman congressman’s extensive experience as a small business owner.
Harjo appointed poet laureate
Harjo was appointed the nation’s 23rd poet laureate for 2019-2020 by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden.
A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Harjo is the first Native American poet and first Oklahoman to serve in the position.
Harjo said she shares the honor with the Muscogee Creek people, the original poets of indigenous tribal nations and teachers who inspired in her a love of poetry.
Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, said Harjo’s unique tribal heritage and distinguished career as a poet, performer and professor will indeed make her an excellent contributor as poet laureate.
According to the Library of Congress, the poet laureate, a position that dates back to 1937, “seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.”
Cherokee Nation is newest Navy ship
Cole, Lankford, Inhofe and Mullin, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, welcomed the announcement the Navy’s newest towing, salvage and rescue ship will be named Cherokee Nation to honor the service of the Cherokee people to the Navy and Marine Corps.
Agriculture adjusts haying, grazing dates
Commenting on news from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lucas said an adjustment in the 2019 haying and grazing date by that agency will provide relief to Oklahoma farmers and ranchers hit by recent storms and unprecedented flooding.
He said those who plant cover crops on prevented planting acres now can graze those fields earlier than Nov. 1.
Gaylord News is a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma