Apr. 10—U.S. Sen. James Lankford stopped by the Garfield County Republican Women's Club monthly meeting on Friday to discuss the state of the Senate and answer questions from some of those who attended.
GCRW President Roxanne Pollard said the club, which has 96 members and 11 associate members, were honored that Lankford chose to come and speak at the event, which was just before the club's meeting, during the Senate's April recess.
"Thanks for being engaged because most folks aren't. Thanks for doing your research," Lankford said to the 50-plus people who gathered in the conference room at Enid YWCA. "There were lots of people smiling, laughing, talking, asking questions. Lots of people hanging around. It was a great turnout."
Topics Lankford discussed and answered questions about included filibustering, the military, national debt, security at the Capitol, tax laws, unemployment, term limits, immigration, voting laws, ANTIFA, the 2024 presidential election, socialism and public education.
Lankford said there's a lot of frustration in the Senate right now since Sen. Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is attempting to "break the filibuster and change all the rules."
"He's focused on trying to break a couple of his members that are saying, 'Why would we do this? Why would we give up 200-plus years of history because you have a couple bills you want to pass?" Lankford said. "Their statements are pretty simple: 'Why don't we do what we always did? Let's just sit down and talk to each other rather than you just trying to ram this through ...'
"Schumer's got to determine, 'I'm not going to break my members down. Instead, we're going to figure out how we can sit down and work on this together.'"
Lankford said the filibuster is set up to not only slow down the process in the Senate but also to make sure that there's "one spot" in the government where every point of view is heard, and once everybody is heard, there's a vote.
"Everything that passes in the Senate passes with 51 votes ... but you've got to have 60 votes for both sides to agree, 'We've all been heard,'" Lankford said. "That's what the filibuster is. That's not a radical thing — that's making sure all sides are heard."
Democrats filibustered former President Donald Trump more than "any other president in American history," Lankford said about President Joe Biden's saying the filibuster has been overused.
Lankford said filibustering needs to stay in place.
National debt and unemployment
On the question concerning national debt, Lankford said $26 trillion is an "enormous" number and that if the U.S. had a rainy day fund, it was used last year because "it definitely rained last year."
Lankford said there was additional borrowing last year because of the collapse of the economy and trying to stabilize businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"One of the jobs we have as Americans (is) we're the top dog in the world," Lankford said. "If Americans get a cold, the rest of the world gets pneumonia. If our economy collapses, the entire world economy collapses ... It's important not only for us to be able to restart, but it's vital to the rest of the world, as well, that we can restart."
Reconciliation is a legal way to do a bill, Lankford said, but it is limited and has to be around tax and spending budgets, and Lankford said Democrats passed a few "astounding" things with reconciliation.
One of those is unemployment benefits. He said unemployment benefits have always been treated as taxable income designed to help people "through that season."
"They changed the rule and said the first $10,000 you receive in unemployment benefits are tax free," Lankford said. "This COVID-19 bill changed that. Starting in July of this year, folks that don't work will start getting a check in addition to their unemployment benefits, in addition to $10,000 on their taxes, and will make it even harder to be able to get those back to work.
"It makes a bad situation worse."
Lankford "adamantly opposed" the recent $2 trillion COVID-19 bill for multiple reasons: one, most of it "wasn't COVID-19-related at all," and two, there was "no reason" to borrow $2 billion, he said.
One of the biggest things he's heard, he said, was that a lot of businesses are hiring, but nobody will come "because they're making more on unemployment" than if they were employed.
Lankford said as the economy is accelerating, more requests for unemployment are building up, which "should not be so" and it's only happening "because these government benefits are in there."
Higher tax rates for corporations, Lankford said, will drive more U.S. companies to other countries since it will be cheaper to do business "over there."
"Money always flows towards headquarters — it always does," Lankford said. "If it's headquartered in Germany, guess what? When they sell products in America, they're going to send that money to Germany ... Tax rates do matter to make us more competitive in the world ... That's why I strongly oppose what President Biden is talking about, trying to be able to jack the corporate rates."
Capitol security and the military
Security at the Capitol is run by the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader, Lankford said, and the outer fence is "finally coming down."
"They've opened up Independence Avenue and Constitution Avenue, so the perimeter is now closer in," he said. "There's toll pits immediately around the Capitol. There are fewer National Guards that are there."
He said he is encouraging that the National Guard go home because "those are people that have jobs and families."
"Those are our neighbors," Lankford said. "They're glad to be able to serve their country, but they're just kept there as props— they need to go home ... The Capitol Police also need a lot of support, right now."
Lankford's wife Cindy is on the board of directors for the Warrior's Rest Foundation, which is a "resource for law enforcement and first responder personnel, departments and communities across the U.S.," according to the foundation's website.
The foundation does ministry to law enforcement, especially after critical incidents, Lankford said, and people forget that law enforcement goes out every day and "puts their lives on the line," remembering Capitol officers who died.
"There's still a perimeter (at the Capitol)," he said. "There's still a high-security ... There's no access to the Capitol ... It's getting a little better than this, but there's going to be some changes ... We got to figure out how to be able to protect staff and other guests and everything else that happens in the building."
A question was asked about whether military troops were in danger in Syria and other countries at this time, to which Lankford said, "I would say, from our military side, there's not a place you are in the world where you're not in danger (when) you put that uniform on."
Lankford said there are troops working overseas to help bring stability to other countries and that it's "helpful" for troops to be there but that there's never a time when they're at risk.
Lankford said he supports term limits and they're important because there are a lot of "qualified people that need their turn to be able to serve."
The challenge on Oklahoma's term limits, in his opinion, are a "couple years too short."
"It does take a while to be able to work on a budget that complicated and all the agencies, and if you have term limits too short, the staff kind of run the place because they're there all the time ... So it takes a few years to be able to get it, he said."
Lankford said on the federal level, three terms in the Senate and seven terms in the U.S. House is "plenty of time" to do what's needed before letting somebody else have it.
"We do need to impose certain limits, and it needs to be long enough where you can actually learn the job, grow into leadership, go home, and get somebody else," Lankford said.
Lankford said right now, Biden hasn't changed anything in the law — he's just using "prosecutorial discretion" to not prosecute people when they cross the border, and instead of doing asylum hearings at the border, Biden is "releasing them into the country and saying, 'We'll catch up with you later,'" Lankford said.
When the DACA program was implemented, Lankford said, there was a huge influx of people coming from Central America. In 2018, Trump said he wanted to end DACA and "everybody freaked out," Lankford said.
"They didn't hear the last part of (Trump's) sentence," Lankford said. "He said, 'Unless Congress can come up with a solution, and I will work with Congress to get there' ... He did it. Over the next six months, he worked with Congress."
Socialism and public education
One question asked was Lankford's opinion on concerns of socialism creeping into public education, and he said, "You should be worried about that."
He said the best way to prevent that from happening is for people to get involved with the school and serve on school boards for "basic accountability."
"Stay engaged and stay involved in the conversation," he said. "If you've got the time or opportunity, jump on the school board and be active. Be active as a parent or grandparent to say, 'Let me see what is actually taught.'"
Lankford's basic principle on voting is he wants "voting to be easy and cheating to be hard," and that everyone should have the opportunity to vote and be encouraged to vote.
House Bill 1, he said, is making voting and cheating easy, and he has an issue with ballot harvesting.
"They put in same-day registration plus block you from any kind of ID," Lankford said. "The combination of the two of those, I mean, I could walk into any polling place in place ... and say, 'I want to register, and I want to vote right now, and I don't have an ID,' and they would have to say, 'OK.'"
His second issue with the bill is ballot harvesting, and his third is that it federalizes elections themselves, Lankford said, causing the cost of elections to "skyrocket."
One question posed was whether Lankford would vote for Trump in the 2024 election if he ran, and Lankford said he sees leaders rise up "from moments," saying he doesn't know what the moment is in 2024.
"Let's go way back: 1976, Ronald Reagan loses the election, wins in '80, just stomps in '84," he said. "He was the right person in that moment — fighting communism, all the things he took on tax policy, perfect articulation of that."
Lankford said whether people liked Trump's rhetoric, from 2017-2020, what he did in prison reform, tax and trade policy and his pro-life stance were "remarkable and right" for that time.
"Let's see what the moment is," he said.
Pollard said Lankford answered all the questions honestly and truthfully without hesitation.
"I thought (the presentation) was excellent," she said. "He was given some difficult questions. He answered them very forthright and didn't hesitate to answer. He did a great job, and we're very happy to have him."
Kelci McKendrick is police and court reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.
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