Transcript of Sen. James Lankford’s Maiden Speech
This is the full transcript of Senate James Lankford’s maiden speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, May 7, 2015. CLICK HERE to view the video.
It’s an honor to represent my family, my neighbors and the millions of people in my diverse state of Oklahoma. I’m an ordinary Oklahoman. I don’t come from a prominent political family or any kind of political machine. My wife of 23 years, Cindy, is in the chamber today. We’ve raised two incredible girls who love God and love our nation. Stepping into this body was a high cost for my family. We took this on together.
We have tremendous staff, both here in Washington, D. C. and in Oklahoma, who sacrificed incredible time and energy for the future of our nation every day they work incredibly hard to fix the issues that we face as a nation. But I’m grateful to serve in this chamber and for this to be my very first time to be able to speak in this chamber and there are a few issues I want to raise and address in our conversation today. I have the opportunity to be able to live in a heritage of distinguished Oklahomans who have served in this chamber. I serve alongside senator Jim Inhofe, who has stood for conservative principles in this body for two decades. I’m able to follow Tom Coburn, and its kind of like being Danny White after Roger Staubach.
There have been 17 other senators from Oklahoma, great names like Don Nickels, Henry Bellman, David Boren and Mike Monroney to name a few. I have, to sit at the desk used by Dewey Bartlett and Edward Moore.
In the 1930’s, Will Rogers said congress is so strange. A man gets up to speak and says nothing, nobody listens, and then everybody disagrees.
This is my first official moment to join the ranks of those who step up to speak but I want to speak about a few things that I consider essential to the work ahead for all of us.
What I call the three D’s I talk about all the time. Debt, Defense and Directives. Let me take those in reverse order.
The directives. People ask me all the time what do Oklahomans want from their federal government? The answer is simple, they want to be left alone. They do not want someone telling them what to do and how to run their lives.
It’s not the people in Oklahoma are anti-government, far from it. We have a strong patriotism that drives us to serve our nation and honor those who give their lives to public service. 20 years ago Oklahoma and the nation was devastated by a truck bomb in Oklahoma City federal building killing 168 people most of those federal employees.
We are grateful for people in government who serve faithfully every day but we also understand that our federal government has a task and it also has a territory. Federal officers should do their task efficiently with transparency and accountability and stay out of other people’s tasks and do theirs with effectiveness.
When I step into a restaurant I may have an idea for a recipe but I can’t wander in the kitchen and start cooking and changing the way the restaurant works. Neither can a federal regulator drift into every business and redo how that business is done. That’s not their territory. That’s not their job. In America, if you want to run a business, you’ll find out the government has made most of the decisions for you about how you run your business.
One Oklahoma company recently paid a fine for not reporting to a federal agency that they had nothing to report. Now, I’m fairly confident the founding fathers when they were envisioning a country were not envisioning that citizens of the country would pay fines to their government for reporting they have nothing to report.
In the past weeks, I’ve started a bipartisan initiative called the cut red tape initiative to try to identify ways to streamline government, return decisions back to individuals and local governments and clear the clutter of regulations that benefit the government but slow down business. So people will know this process is difficult, I have faced weeks of red tape in the Senate to start an initiative called cut red tape. We’ll work through that.
In the past few years over 30,000 pages have been added to the federal register, nothing in American life doesn’t face a federal regulation. To make sure government considers the cumulative effect of regulations agencies are required to do a look back to evaluate problem regulations each year but most don’t take it seriously. The department of labor has 676 regulations and rules and this year their regulatory look back includes four regulations. Four. Of 676.
That’s not a serious review. The new consumer financial protection bureau has no accountability to the American people and no limit to its authority. They are becoming a fourth branch of government with no checks or balances.
The EPA spends their time looking for gray areas of law in places where they can reinterpret old laws to fit their agenda. Consent decrees and novel interpretations of statutes have superseded state primacy of enforcement.
Agencies write rules, enforce rules and establish the fundamental for not following their rules.
Many people want to blame this Administration. I disagree. This Administration has become experts at pushing the boundaries, that’s true. But the rise of regulatory state is not new. For decades, the congress has delegated responsibilities to agencies and given them very few boundaries. Since the 1970’s – and the Chevron Case, the courts have increased the power of regulatory agencies by allowing them to determine their own rules.
This isn’t a republican or democrat issue, it’s an American issue, which will not improve until this body demands their constitutional authority back and clarifies to the court the Constitution states that all legislative authority shall lie in the congress, not in an agency.
The American people want to give the federal government their own directive, leave us alone.
I’m willing to work with anyone who is willing to work on some of these issues.
So far this session I’ve co-authored or cosponsored bills and worked with Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Gary Peters, Gary Peters, Orrin Hatch, Steve Daines, Rob Portman, Tom Carper, John McCain, Mike Enzi, Mar Kirk, Angus King, Rand Paul, Jeanne Shaheen, Kelly Ayotte and Ron Johnson just to name a few.
I didn’t have to sacrifice my conservative values but did have to admit anyone can have a good idea. Just because we disagree on one thing doesn’t mean we have to belittle people.
I told my wife several years ago when I came into the House of Representatives I had the deja vu moment thinking I felt this way before but I’d never been in congress but I know this feeling. After six months, I called her and said I finally figured out what this feeling is to be in congress. It’s the emotion in middle school lunch. It’s that feeling of I get more popular by sitting at my table and making none of everyone else at everyone else’s table. And if I ever say something nice, my table says why would you do that? If I say something unkind, everybody says way to go. Welcome to congress.
Only we can turn this around. We will strongly disagree on areas but we should find the areas of common ground where we don’t have to sacrifice our values and be able to find ways to work together.
Second issue, defense. Directives and Defense.
Our freedom is foreign to most of the world and it’s a threat to them. Not because the United States is an aggressor nation, far from it. But because the liberty we export is so powerful they know well it could depose their dictatorships and weaken their control.
Many government let’s would rather keep their people poor and closely managed than allow them to be prosperous and free.
Iran is on the rise. Since the 1979 revolution Iran has exported terrorism around the world and I am convinced some individuals even in this administration trust Iran’s words more than they trust history, the facts on the ground or even their own intuition. We cannot allow the largest exporter of terrorism in the world to have nuclear weapons. We cannot do that.
Dictatorial governments around the world and Islamic leaders consistently test our mettle, probe our infrastructure and computer systems, test our passion for freedom and our resolve for the dignity of every person. By the way, that’s one of our core values. Every person, even people we disagree with, are valuable.
It’s why the issue just as a side note of race is so important to us in America. Because we understand in many parts of the world if you’re from the wrong family, the wrong tribe, the wrong race, the wrong faith you cannot get a job, can’t get services, can’t get housing, all those things. That’s how other places do it. That’s not us. We have chosen to not be like that as a nation.
Where injustice exists we want freedom and equality. Within our own boundaries or around the world. We believe every person is created equal and is endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Every person.
When brutal thugs attack innocent nations we have the high ground to call out the aggressor and stand with the oppressed. We work with resolve to solve the issues peacefully. We understand the proverb a gentle answer turns away wrath. But when nations will not stop their aggression we do not bear the sword for nothing.
I have the privilege and I do count it as a privilege of serving thousands of men and women and their families who faithfully protect our nation every day in all branches of the foil, first responders on our street, training, equipping and protecting. Hundreds of thousands in Oklahoma.
In fact, without Oklahoma, just so this body will know, our nation could not sustain our air force, train our pilots, rearm our munitions, fire artillery or rockets, talk to 0 your subs, refuel our aircraft, or deliver supplies. So you’re welcome for what happens in Oklahoma every day.
Our guard and reserve units have fulfilled everything that has been asked of them by their nation. Some of them to their last full measure of devotion, but in Oklahoma our patriotism also challenges us to deal with military waste. When it takes money especially directly from the war fighter. Why would we call waste in defense patriotism? Let’s solve it.
We want the intelligence community to be well equipped. We want them to be attentive to the issues around the world but we also want our fourth amendment freedoms protected. Remember, Oklahomans like to just be left alone.
Third issue. Our debt. Directives, defense and debt.
Our economy runs on increasing debt. That’s how we’re actually managing life day to day nowadays. We gamble every year that interest rates will not go up and the rest of the world will still want our bonds. This year we paid $229 billion in interest payments. Think about that for a minute. $229 billion. The highway trust fund is short just $10 billion and we’re spending $229 billion just in interest payments this year.
C. B. O. Estimates we will spend over $800 billion in interest payments by the end of the ten-year window, more than on all defense spending, education and transportation and energy combined we’ll do just on interest payments in the years ahead.
We need to fix two things: efficiently manage government spending and the growing economy.
Duplication in programs. All of these things need to be resolved. Efficiency in the federal government. We need to deal with the tremendous fraud and waste and duplication.
Where we see it we should go after it. For two weeks I’ve held a bill that funds a grant program for bulletproof vests. I’m not opposed to the program. I’m opposed to the fact we have two programs that do the same thing. Two different applications, two different sets of processes, two programs that do the same thing. We see it, we should solve it.
Yesterday we marked up and passed a bill in committee that I authored called the Taxpayer Right to Know Act that will identify duplicative programs, the number of full-time staff and how and if programs are evaluated. A simply thing to do that passed by voice vote out of the committee. I hope we’ll use that tool wisely to actually identify where we see duplication instead of campaigning about — complain about it, solve it as a body. The goal is to find and eliminate them.
A friend in Oklahoma, his name is hank. Hank runs a small business. Hank is a guy that if you see him you need to brace yourself because when he shakes your hand, you know it. Hank runs his small business from a desk in his unair conditioned garage. When I think about the way we spend money I often think of Hank. Hank is not a guy who wants to have our government suffer or our nation do something weak. Hank is an incredible patriot. But he wants us to spend money wisely and where we find waste, we expect we could get rid of it.
He does. He would expect that we do. A good example is social security disability. It is a difficult issue to talk about because we want a safety net for the truly vulnerable, but we all know that there’s incredible waste in that program, and there are people that are ripping off the system. To have a strong safety net for the vulnerable doesn’t mean that we allow people to freeload off the top. Disability is designed for people who cannot work in any the economy — in any job in the economy. We need people to work.
The earned-income tax credit is another one of those. We know — we read the reports every year– 24% fraud rate, highest fraud rate in the federal government. Last year, $14. 5 billion in loss. One program, $14. 5 billion. We’ve got to pay attention to this.
We’ve got to get the economy going or we’ll never fix the debt. We can’t just fix it by reducing spending. Tax reform seems to be the illusive dream of our economy. I can only hope that we’ll fail to do things that are significant and possible.
Banking reform must be done. Dodd-frank is choking out lending. Now, I don’t want to attack any individual that voted for it, but I am very well aware there are many unintended consequences that have come down, especially on community banks. People can feel our economy tightening and the lending tightening. They don’t know why. Main street community banks are dealing one certain regulations. We have to get our community banks back in business.
We can do that by exempting traditional banks from heavy regulatory burdens and replacing simple capital requirements. This isn’t controversial or complicated. We just need to work on some simple things while we still work on the complex.
Trade — we’re a nation that believes in trade. Quite frankly, our navy was created in the infancy of our republic to protect our trade. In fact, one of the grievances that we had with King George in the original declaration of independence was that the King was cutting off our trade with parts of the world. Trade has been important since before we were a nation.
Currently in ongoing nation of whether we’ll be a nation of trade seems a little odd to me. Yes, we’re going to be a nation of trade. We always have been. Let’s work it out and let’s find ways to grow our economy — and continue to grow our economy.
In the past six years, the brightest star in our economy has been energy. Energy is going to be a major part of growing our economy. If anyone disagrees, I would love to get a chance to meet them. I can show them all the job growth in America just circled around energy. Energy jobs are great-paying jobs, but if they’re subtly fading away because of this mixture of low energy prices and bad energy policy. Our supplies are now at record numbers and we keep finding more.
In the past six months, America has lost 100,000 jobs because we’ve stopped drilling because our tanks are full and the prices have collapsed. If we could only sell that oil, what a difference that might make to our economy.
You see, we can sell our coal and we can sell our natural gas, but for whatever reason, we as a nation are still thinking we can’t sell oil. Now, we could sell gasoline; just not oil. It would be kind of like saying you can sell flour but you can’t sell wheat.
Currently we import about 27% of our crude. Most of that is heavy oil. That’s imported. Most of that is done by foreign ownership, foreign ownership of refineries. They’re bringing in their own oil. Most of our new finds are in light sweet oil, a different type of oil that our refineries don’t need.
You know who needs it? Mexico needs it. Canada needs it.
So literally while our storage tanks are at maximum capacity and the prices continue to drop in America, the rest of the world is craving our oil and we’re debating on whether that’s a good deal.
It is an irony that the Administration is in negotiations to open up the sale of Iranian oil to the market and we can’t sell oil from America on the world market. Let’s pay attention American — attention to American jobs.
Let’s get our economy going. There are some basic things we can do. All this talk about security, economy, and liberty boils down one thing, though — our families. Nothing is bigger in our nation than our families, nothing.
We’re not a nation of wealth; we’re a nation of families. The rise of government is directly connected to the collapse of families. It’s not the government that’s pushing down families. It is that families that are collapsing and government is trying to rise to fix that. Government can’t fix a team.
But — government can’t fix a family. But we can make sure there is no marriage penalty in our tax law. We can actually use our moments in our times when we speak to state the obvious: America is stronger when American families are strong. Let’s not be afraid to step out and protect what we know works.
We don’t live in a nation with no hope. We live in a nation of incredible hope. The seeds are all still there. It is a matter of how much we’re going to engage in those things. We should export our freedom to the world. We should export our values to the world. And we’ll do that at our best as we rise up and speak about the things that we know are right.
There’s a tremendous diversity of American opinion. It is popular for people to be intolerant of people of faith. You can say you have faith, but you’re pushed down if you actually practice the faith that you say you have.
I served for 22 years in ministry before I came to congress. I have a little different perspective than some. I see our country with great Spiritual hunger. I don’t criticize Washington in the process. I believe Washington perfectly reflects our culture and people that are frustrated with what Washington has become, I remind them. This is who we are as a nation. What are we going to do about it becomes the big issue. What are we going to become?
While we beat ourselves up, we lose track that the rest of the world still looks at us and they still want to be us. Last September I was in Central America for a few days meeting with some of the leaders there, talking about immigration. I don’t know if anyone has noticed, there are a few issues with immigration right now. I started talking about what are we going to do? What’s actually driving the immigrants to come? One of the leaders there said, sir, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’re the United States of America. Everyone in the world wants to come there. There doesn’t have to be a driving factor to go to your nation. Everyone wants to be your nation.
We don’t have open borders, nor should we. But it was another lesson learned, that while we argue among ourselves, we have the opportunity to be able to serve in the greatest nation in the greatest body in the world.
We still lead the world with our values. We should represent that well. That’s our greatest export, our values. This is the National Day of Prayer, and I thought it would be entirely appropriate to end this conversation with both a reminder to call our nation to prayer, to remember psalm 46:1:2 that God is our refuge in strength. Therefore, I will not fear.
To not only remember that, but, Mr. President, for me to actually call the Senate to pray.
Let’s pray together.
Father, I pray for our nation. I pray that you would give us wisdom and direction. I pray for this body of incredible men and women who have set aside their families and their careers and their life to come serve their nation. I pray that you would give us unity of attitude and diversity of opinion and that you’d give us the capacity to be able to solve the issues ahead of us. I pray for President Obama, for Vice President Biden, for the Supreme Court, for the House of Representatives, for the men and women around the world right now that are serving us in quietly in ways in intelligence, publicly as first responders and leaders, and our military scattered across the earth. God, would you protect them, and would you allow us as families and as leaders to represent you and the values of our nation to a world that needs our leadership still. God, use this time. Use us, as broken as we are, we know that you are an ever-present help in a time of trouble and we will not fear. Thank you, Jesus. Amen. With that, Mr. President, I yield back.