New Armed Services Chairs Have Starkly Different Views On Measures, Spending Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., will respectively chair the Senate and House armed services committees in the new Congress. They have very different views on what is needed.

New Armed Services Chairs Have Starkly Different Views On Measures, Spending

New Armed Services Chairs Have Starkly Different Views On Measures, Spending

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Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., will respectively chair the Senate and House armed services committees in the new Congress. They have very different views on what is needed.


Until Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly resigned last week, President Trump's critics saw him as an important check on an impulsive commander in chief. Traditionally it's the role of Congress to counterbalance the presidency. And next week, the powerful Armed Services Committees, in both the House and Senate, will have new chairmen. As NPR's David Welna reports, one is definitely not a Trump supporter while the other most definitely is.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Earlier this month, military officers filled an auditorium at the National Defense University, a Defense Department-funded school focused on national security strategy. They'd come to hear Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who succeeded the late John McCain as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Inhofe had been invited to discuss defense policy, which he did, but he also made sure to put in a good word for President Trump.


JIM INHOFE: It didn't really fit in that presentation here. But you got to realize this guy's doing a great job.

WELNA: Inhofe's loyalty to Trump was also evident three days after McCain, a sharp critic of the president, died in August. He was asked by a reporter about the White House flying the American flag at full staff, even though everywhere else it was still at half staff. Here's his response.


INHOFE: John McCain was partially to blame for that because he was very outspoken that he disagreed with the president in certain areas and wasn't too courteous about it.

WELNA: Inhofe told the National Defense University audience he had just spent two hours at the White House with Trump, who tweeted days earlier that what the U.S. spends on defense was, quote, "crazy" and who'd also called for a 5 percent cut in next year's military budget. Inhofe said he wants tens of billions of dollars more for defense.


INHOFE: Our number-one priority in this country should be defense. It should be a no-brainer. People here with your orientation who are the military, you know what I'm talking about. The general public doesn't.

WELNA: Inhofe apparently did change Trump's mind. After their meeting, a White House official confirmed that Trump had agreed to boost the Pentagon's budget to $750 billion, a $34 billion increase. Unlike McCain who often tangled with Pentagon contractors, Inhofe has long been a booster of the defense industry.

TODD HARRISON: Quite frankly, I think Inhofe and McCain, there's a night-and-day difference.

WELNA: That's defense budget analyst Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington defense think tank. Harrison expects an even greater contrast between Inhofe and Adam Smith, the Washington Democrat who's about to take over as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

HARRISON: I think Smith in general is going to be more skeptical, you know, looking at increases in the defense budget, in particularly some of the major new weapons systems that are due for modernization, whereas I think Senator Inhofe is going to have a more open wallet when it comes to many defense issues.

WELNA: In an interview, incoming Chairman Smith says he has yet to see a compelling argument for boosting next year's defense budget.


ADAM SMITH: When you look at our budget priorities for the country, the size of our debt and our deficit, the infrastructure needs, the other needs that are out there - if you spend that much money on defense, the debt and the deficit will go ever higher, and these other priorities go unaddressed.

WELNA: Smith points to the trillion-dollar-plus cost of upgrading the nation's nuclear forces as a prime example of unwise spending. To that, Inhofe has a simple reply.


INHOFE: Mr. Smith's a very good friend of mine. We've always disagreed on this subject.

WELNA: Inhofe's campaign to boost defense spending got linked earlier this month to some recently acquired stock.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee coming under fire this week for buying tens of thousands of dollars in defense stocks after pushing for a big boost in military spending.

WELNA: When the NBC affiliate in Inhofe's hometown of Tulsa spotlighted his defense stock purchases, the 84-year-old five-term senator said he'd sold that stock and insisted it was bought without his knowledge by a financial adviser. For his part, Inhofe has publicly questioned soon-to-be House Chairman Smith's ability to fulfill their two committees' biggest task - coming up with an annual defense policy bill that sets spending levels both panels can agree on. Smith dismisses Inhofe's sniping.


SMITH: Eh, you know, things get said. It doesn't bother me. I'm 100 percent confident that I can work with Senator Inhofe to get a defense bill.

WELNA: For now though, Smith plans to be a thorn in the side of the same defense establishment Inhofe champions. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.


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