Inhofe is most well known for his denial of global warming. He supports a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and has proposed the Inhofe Amendment to make English the national language of the United States.
Inhofe was born in Des Moines, Iowa, the son of Blanche (née Mountain) and Perry Dyson Inhofe. He moved with his family to Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he was a child. He was a member of the Class of 1953 at Tulsa Central High School, and served in the United States Army from 1957 to 1958. Inhofe received a B.A. degree when he was nearly 40 years old from the University of Tulsa in 1973.
Inhofe worked as a businessman for 30 years before becoming a full-time politician. He worked in the field of aviation, as a real estate developer, and in insurance, eventually becoming the president of the Quaker Life Insurance Company. During the time he worked for Quaker Life, the company went into receivership; it was liquidated in 1986.
Inhofe became active in Oklahoma Republican politics in the mid-1960s. He was a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1967 to 1969, and a member of the Oklahoma Senate from 1969 until 1977, the last four of those years as minority leader.
In 1974, he ran for Governor of Oklahoma. In October 1974, then-President Gerald Ford visited Oklahoma to campaign for him. A late October poll by the Daily Oklahoman showed Boren leading 74%–25%. He lost to Democratic State Representative David Boren 64%–36%. Inhofe won only four counties in the election. He lost 57 pounds during the campaign and was down to 148 pounds.
In 1976, he ran for Oklahoma's 1st congressional district. In the Republican primary, he defeated State Senator Frank Keating and Mary Warner 67%–25%–8%. In the general election, he lost to incumbent Democrat James R. Jones 54%–45%.
In 1978, he ran for mayor of Tulsa, defeating Democrat Rodger Randle 51%–46%. In 1980, he won re-election unopposed and in 1982, he won re-election with 59%.
In 1986, when Congressman Jones decided to retire to run for the U.S. Senate, Inhofe ran for the 1st District and won the Republican primary with 54%. In the general election, he defeated Democrat Gary Allison 55%–43%. In 1988, he won re-election against Democrat Kurt Glassco, Governor George Nigh's legal counsel, 53%–47%. In 1990, he defeated Glassco in a rematch 56%–44%. After redistricting, the 1st District contained only two counties, all of Tulsa and some parts of Wagoner. In 1992, he won re-election with 53% of the vote.
In 1987, he voted against President Ronald Reagan's budget, which included tax increases and no increase in defense spending.
He first came to national attention in 1993, when he led the effort to reform the House's discharge petition rule, which the House leadership had long used to bottle up bills in committee.
In 1994, incumbent Senator David Boren, who had been serving in the Senate since 1979, agreed to become president of the University of Oklahoma and announced he would resign as soon as a successor was elected. Inhofe was elected Senator Boren's successor in this election cycle that saw the Republican Party take both houses of Congress and the Oklahoma governorship (the latter for only the third time in state history). Inhofe took the office on November 16 and took the next day, his 60th birthday, giving him more senatorial seniority than the incoming class of senators. After serving the last two years of Boren's term, he won his first full term in 1996. He was reelected in 2002, 2008 and 2014.Fundraising
In the 2008 election cycle, Inhofe's largest campaign donors represented the oil and gas ($446,900 in donations), leadership PACs ($316,720) and electric utilities ($221,654) industries/categories. In 2010, his largest donors represented the oil and gas ($429,950) and electric ($206,654) utilities.
The primary PACs donating to his campaigns were: Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association ($55,869), United Parcel Service ($51,850), National Association of Realtors ($51,700), National Rifle Association ($51,050) and American Medical Association ($51,000). Additionally, if company-sponsored PACs were combined with employee contributions, Koch Industries would be Inhofe's largest contributor, with $90,950 (less than 0.6% of total contributions), according to the Center for Responsive Politics.Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse revelations
As a member of the Armed Services Committee, he was among the panelists questioning witnesses about the 2004 Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse, stating he was "outraged by the outrage" over the revelations of abuse. Although he believed that the individuals responsible for mistreating prisoners should be punished, he stated that the prisoners "are not there for traffic violations . . . they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents". In 2006, Inhofe was one of only nine senators to vote against the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 which prohibits "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of individuals in U.S. Government custody.
Inhofe, as of the 115th Congress, is a member of the following committees:Committee on Armed Services
Subcommittee on Airland
Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
International Conservation Caucus
Senate Army Caucus
Senate Diabetes Caucus
Senate General Aviation Caucus
Senate Rural Health Caucus
Senate Tourism Caucus
Inhofe is one of the most conservative members of either house of Congress (the eighth-most conservative senator, according to the March 2007 National Journal rankings of Liberal/Conservative members of Congress.)
Before the Republicans regained control of the Senate in the November 2002 elections, Inhofe had compared the United States Environmental Protection Agency to a Gestapo bureaucracy, and EPA Administrator Carol Browner to Tokyo Rose. In January 2003, he became Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and continued challenging mainstream science in favor of what he called "sound science", in accordance with the Luntz memo.
Since 2003, when he was first elected Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Inhofe has been the foremost Republican promoting arguments for climate change denial in the global warming controversy. He famously said in the Senate that global warming is a hoax, and has invited contrarians to testify in Committee hearings, and spread his views via the Committee website run by Marc Morano, and through his access to conservative media. In 2012, Inhofe's The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future was published by WorldNetDaily Books, presenting his global warming conspiracy theory. He said that, because "God's still up there", the "arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous." However, he says he appreciates that this does not win arguments, and he has "never pointed to Scriptures in a debate, because I know this would discredit me." His opposition to climate action is as much based on concerns about over-regulation of businesses, and he has shown ability to work with his Senate opponents on other issues: in 2003 he co-sponsored legislation to protect the Kemp's ridley sea turtle.
As Environment and Public Works chairman, Inhofe made a two-hour-long Senate Floor speech on July 28, 2003, in the context of discussions on the McCain-Lieberman Bill. He said he was "going to expose the most powerful, most highly financed lobby in Washington, the far left environmental extremists", and laid out in detail his opposition to attribution of recent climate change to humans, using the word "hoax" four times including the statement that he had "offered compelling evidence that catastrophic global warming is a hoax", and his conclusion expressing his belief that "manmade global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people". He supported what he called "sound science" with citations from scientists; contrarians including Patrick Michaels, Fred Singer, Richard Lindzen and Sallie Baliunas as well as some mainstream scientists. Two of these, Tom Wigley and Stephen Schneider, later issued statements that Inhofe had misrepresented their work.
On July 29, the day after his Senate speech, Inhofe chaired an Environment and Public Works hearing with contrarian views represented by Baliunas and David Legates, and praised their "1,000-year climate study", then involved in the Soon and Baliunas controversy, as "a powerful new work of science". Against them, Michael E. Mann defended mainstream science and specifically his work which they and the Bush administration disputed in the hockey stick controversy. During the hearing Senator Jim Jeffords read out an email from Hans von Storch saying he had resigned as editor in chief of the journal which had published the Soon and Baliunas paper, as the peer-review had "failed to detect significant methodological flaws in the paper" and the critique published by Mann and colleagues was valid.
In a continuation of these themes, Inhofe had a 20-page brochure published under the Seal of the United States Senate reiterating his "hoax" statement, comparing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to a "Soviet style trial", and in a section headed "The IPCC Plays Hockey" he attacked what he called "Mann's flawed, limited research." The brochure restated themes from Inhofe's Senate speech, and in December 2003, he distributed copies of it in Milan at a meeting discussing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where he met "green activists" with posters quoting him as saying that global warming "is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people". He signed a poster for them, and thanked them for quoting him correctly. In an October 2004 Senate speech he said "Global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people. It was true when I said it before, and it remains true today. Perhaps what has made this hoax so effective is that we hear over and over that the science is settled and there is a consensus that, unless we fundamentally change our way of life by limiting greenhouse gas emissions, we will cause catastrophic global warming. This is simply a false statement." In January 2005, Inhofe told Bloomberg News that global warming was "the second-largest hoax ever played on the American people, after the separation of church and state", and that carbon dioxide would not be restricted by the Clear Skies Act of 2003. In a Senate Floor "update", he extended his argument against Mann's work by extensively citing Michael Crichton's fictional thriller, State of Fear, mistakenly describing Crichton as a "scientist". On August 28, 2005, at Inhofe's invitation, Crichton appeared as an expert witness at a hearing on climate change, disputing Mann's work.
In The Republican War on Science, Chris Mooney stated in 2006 that Inhofe "politicizes and misuses the science of climate change". During a heat wave in July 2006, Inhofe said to the Tulsa World newspaper that the environmentalist movement reminded him of "the Third Reich, the Big Lie", as "You say something over and over and over and over again, and people will believe it, and that's their strategy."
In a September 2006 Senate speech, Inhofe argued that the threat of global warming was exaggerated by "the media, Hollywood elites and our pop culture". He said that in the 1960s the media had switched from warning of global warming to warning of global cooling and a coming ice age, then in the 1970s had returned to warming to promote "climate change fears". In February 2007, he told Fox News that mainstream science increasingly attributed climate change to natural causes, and only "those individuals on the far left, such as Hollywood liberals and the United Nations" opposed this.
In 2006, Inhofe introduced Senate Amendment 4682 with Kit Bond (R-MO), which would have modified oversight responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers. The League of Conservation Voters, an environmentalist group, said analyses for corps projects "have been manipulated to favor large-scale projects that harm the environment." During the 109th Congress, Inhofe voted to increase offshore oil drilling, to include provisions for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the House Budget Amendment, and to deny funding for both low-income energy assistance and environmental stewardship, citing heavy costs and unproven programs.
In May 2009, he gave support to the idea that black carbon is a significant contributor to global warming.
Inhofe has been a recipient of monies from the fossil fuel industry. For example: "Exxon's beneficiaries in Congress include the Oklahoma senator Jim Inhofe, who called global warming a hoax, and who has received $20,500 since 2007, according to the Dirty Energy Money database maintained by Oil Change International."
On November 23, 2009, as the Climatic Research Unit email controversy emerged, Inhofe said that the emails confirmed his view that scientists were "cooking the science". On December 7 on the CNN program The Situation Room, Inhofe said that the emails showed that the science behind climate change "has been pretty well debunked", the fact checking organization Politifact concluded that Inhofe's statement was false. On the same day, Inhofe said he would lead a three-man "truth squad" consisting of himself and fellow senators Roger Wicker and John Barrasso to the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. However, Inhofe was unable to secure meetings with any negotiators or delegations to the conference and only met with a small group of reporters. The minority group of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works prepared a report on "the CRU Controversy", published in February 2010, which listed as "Key Players" 17 scientists including Mann and Jones. Inhofe said it showed that the controversy was "about unethical and potentially illegal behavior by some of the world's leading climate scientists." On May 26, Inhofe formally requested the Inspector General of the United States Department of Commerce to investigate how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had dealt with the emails, and whether the emails showed any wrongdoing; it found no major issues or inappropriate actions.
In July 2010, Inhofe stated, "I don't think that anyone disagrees with the fact that we actually are in a cold period that started about nine years ago. Now, that's not me talking, those are the scientists that say that." The Union of Concerned Scientists said that what Inhofe stated was wrong, pointing to an NOAA report indicating that, through July 2010 had been the hottest summer on record since 1880. Inhofe added that "People on the other side of this argument back in January, they said, 'Inhofe, it has nothing to do with today's or this month or next month. We're looking at a long period of time. We go into twenty year periods.'"
During a House committee hearing in 2011, Inhofe testified, "I have to admit—and, you know, confession is good for the soul... I, too, once thought that catastrophic global warming was caused by anthropogenic gases—because everyone said it was." Under questioning from committee member Jay Inslee, Inhofe dismissed the notion that he was less knowledgeable than climate scientists, saying that he'd already given "five speeches on the science."
On January 21, 2015, Inhofe returned to chairing the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, as part of a new Republican majority in the Senate. In response to reports by NOAA and NASA that the year 2014 had been the warmest globally in the temperature record, he said "we had the coldest in the western hemisphere in the same time frame", and attributed changes to a 30-year cycle, not human activities. In a debate on the same day about a bill for the Keystone XL pipeline, Inhofe endorsed an amendment proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, "Climate change is real and not a hoax", which passed 98–1. Inhofe clarified his view that "Climate is changing and climate has always changed and always will. There is archaeological evidence of that, there is biblical evidence of that, there is historical evidence of that", but added that "there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate."
On February 26, 2015, Inhofe brought a snowball on to the Senate floor and tossed it before delivering remarks in which he claimed that environmentalists keep talking about global warming even though it keeps getting cold.
On March 19, 2015, Inhofe introduced S.828, “The Fracturing Regulations are Effective in State Hands (FRESH) Act.” The bill would transfer regulatory power over hydraulic fracturing from the federal government to state governments. In his announcement of the bill, Inhofe said that hydraulic fracturing has never contaminated ground water in Oklahoma (the state he represents in the Senate). Both U.S. senators from 7 states (Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Dakota and Texas) cosponsored the bill with Inhofe.
Inhofe co-authored and was one of 22 senators to sign a letter to President Donald Trump urging the President to have the United States withdraw from the Paris Agreement. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Inhofe has received over $529,000 from the oil and gas industry since 2012.
In a Senate speech on March 4, 2002, Inhofe presented his position on the "seven reasons that Israel has the right to their land."
These are summarized as follows:
- Archeological evidence. Excerpt: "Every time there is a dig in Israel, it does nothing but support the fact that Israelis have had a presence there for 3,000 years."
- Historic right. Inhofe's case includes the historic presence of Israel prior to the Roman Empire, and the promise given to the Jews by Britain in 1917 to provide a Jewish homeland.
- Agricultural development. Inhofe argues that Israel has been "able to bring more food out of a desert environment than any other country in the world."
- Humanitarian concerns. Inhofe argues that due to the extent of their persecution - he cites Russia - and their slaughter - during World War II by the Nazis - the Jews are entitled to a homeland, and that this is not an unreasonable demand.
- Strategic ally of the United States. "They vote with us in the United Nations more than England, more than Canada, more than France, more than Germany — more than any other country in the world."
- Acting as an effective roadblock to terrorism. In this part of his speech, Inhofe refers to four wars which Israel has fought and won (as of the date of his speech, dated 2002): "The 1948 War of Independence, the 1956 Sinai campaign, the 1967 Six Day War, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War." And he states that "In all four cases, Israel was attacked. They were not the aggressor ... In regard to their effectiveness, they are great warriors. They consider a level playing field being outnumbered 2-to-1." He also states at this point that, "One of the reasons I believe the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the United States is that the policy of our government has been to ask the Israelis, and demand it with pressure, not to retaliate in a significant way against the terrorist strikes that have been launched against them."
- Biblical references. Inhofe states, "I believe very strongly that we ought to support Israel, and that it has a right to the land, because God said so."
In a Senate speech, Inhofe said that America should base its Israel policy on the text of the Bible:
In March 2002, Inhofe also made a speech before the U.S. Senate that included the explicit suggestion that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a form of divine retribution against the U.S. for failing to defend Israel. He said: "One of the reasons I believe the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the United States of America is that the policy of our Government has been to ask the Israelis, and demand it with pressure, not to retaliate in a significant way against the terrorist strikes that have been launched against them."
Inhofe has condemned President Barack Obama's inaction on Syria.
Inhofe wrote the Inhofe Amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which was debated in Congress in May 2006. The amendment would make English the national language of the United States and require that new citizens take an English proficiency test. The amendment was passed on May 18, 2006, with 32 Democrats, one independent, and one Republican dissenting. The measure had 11 cosponsors, including one Democrat.
In the debate, Inhofe cited a 2005 Zogby Poll showing 84% of Americans support making English the official language of governmental operations, including 71% of Hispanics. He also noted that 27 states and 51 nations have made English their official language and that the Office of Management and Budget estimated that it costs taxpayers $1–2 billion to provide language assistance under President Bill Clinton's Executive Order 13166 that created the entitlement to services provided in any language other than English.
Inhofe has generally been seen as overtly hostile by LGBT advocacy groups, earning a 0% in every one of his terms on Human Rights Campaign's position scorecard. Inhofe is in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, against adding sexual orientation to the definition of hate crimes, and voted against prohibiting job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Inhofe's office has said he "does not hire openly gay staffers due to the possibility of a conflict of agenda."
Inhofe campaigned for his Senate seat in 1994 using the phrase "God, guns, and gays." In 2008, his campaign was noted by the Associated Press for running an ad with "anti-gay overtones" featuring a wedding cake with two male figures on top, fading into his opponent's face.
Inhofe, an initial sponsor of Senator Jim Webb's Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, subsequently withdrew support for this bill to support S 2938, a competing bill that would have provided benefits beyond those offered in Webb's bill. However, Inhofe voted to enact Webb's legislation in June 2008.
Inhofe agreed to support legislation allowing military mental health specialists to talk with veterans about private firearms in an effort to reduce suicides.
Trained by the US Navy, Inhofe is one of the few members of Congress who is licensed as a commercial pilot. In 1994, when he first ran for the U.S. Senate, he used his plane as a daily campaign vehicle to travel throughout Oklahoma and visit almost every town in the state. He has been influential in Senate and Congressional debates involving aircraft regulation.
On October 21, 2010, at the age of 75, Inhofe landed his Cessna on a closed runway at a south Texas airport, scattering construction workers who ran for their lives. In a recorded telephone call, the men's supervisor told the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that Inhofe "scared the crap out of" the workers, adding that the Cessna "damn near hit" a truck. And the airport manager, also speaking to the FAA in a recorded telephone call, opined: "I've got over 50 years flying, three tours of Vietnam, and I can assure you I have never seen such a reckless disregard for human life in my life. Something needs to be done. This guy is famous for these violations."
In response to the incident, Inhofe stated that he "did nothing wrong", and accused the FAA of "agency overreach" and causing a "feeling of desperation" in him. He agreed to take a remedial training program, and the FAA agreed not to pursue legal action against him if he took the program. In July 2011, Inhofe introduced a bill to create a "Pilot's Bill of Rights" which he said would increase fairness in FAA enforcement actions. The bill was passed in 2012.
Inhofe states that he has made over 140 trips to Africa over about 20 years and helped to get United States Africa Command established. Inhofe has made multiple foreign trips, especially to Africa, on missions that he described as "a Jesus thing" and that were paid for by the U.S. government. He has used these trips for activities on behalf of The Fellowship, a Christian organization. Inhofe has said that his trips included some governmental work but also involved "the political philosophy of Jesus, something that had been put together by Doug Coe, the leader of The Fellowship...It's all scripturally based." Inhofe used his access as a Senator to pursue religious goals.
Inhofe has consistently voted against federal disaster relief, most notably in the case of relief for the 24 states affected by Hurricane Sandy. However, he argues for federal aid when natural disasters hit Oklahoma. In defense of his decision to vote against a relief fund for Hurricane Sandy, but not in Oklahoma after tornadoes ravaged the state in May 2013, he claimed the situations were "totally different" the difference being the Sandy funding involved "Everybody getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place. That won't happen in Oklahoma." Inhofe pointedly did not thank President Obama for his attention to the tragedy in his state, so as to not be compared to Chris Christie.
Early during the Republican Party presidential primaries in 2016, Inhofe endorsed fellow Republican John Kasich.
Jim Inhofe is a strong supporter of freedom for western Sahara.
In 1959, Inhofe married Kay Kirkpatrick, with whom he has four children.
On November 10, 2013, Inhofe's son, Dr. Perry Inhofe, died in a plane crash in Owasso, Oklahoma, flying alone for the first time since training in a newly acquired plane.
Inhofe was the first recipient of the U.S. Air Force Academy's Character and Leadership Award for his character and leadership in public service.