Senate Armed Services Committee Special Report

National Journal Magazine published a special report on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) which profiles Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the committee, and three members of the minority staff.                              

Ranking Member James Inhofe

By Fawn Johnson: Click to read online

 Inhofe Table

James Inhofe is airing a new campaign ad. It shows the 79-year-old lawmaker flying a private plane upside down. His nephew, a video producer, mounted cameras on the wings, the tail, and the nose of the aircraft to document the stunt, which the Oklahoma Republican says he has performed hundreds of times.

"I've been flying for 55 years. People always say, 'Inhofe, you're too old to run for reelection.' And I say, 'When I'm no longer flying an airplane upside down, then I'm too old to run for reelection.' "

As a pilot, Inhofe combines disciplined understanding of his craft's parameters with joyful (some would say reckless) execution of fun feats. As a senator, he combines an unapologetic belief in a few simple ideas—President Obama is disarming America, defense spending in Oklahoma should keep coming to Oklahoma—with deep knowledge of the legislative process. 

And as the Republican leader on the powerful Armed Services Committee, Inhofe is deft at maneuvering across the aisle. He worked hand in glove with committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, to pass an uncluttered defense authorization bill last December, even missing his 54th wedding anniversary when the floor deliberations dragged on. He and Levin argued that the Senate shouldn't attach unrelated amendments to the bill—because the legislation was simply too important.


"It's the one bill that you have to have to give the resources to our kids who are out fighting battles," Inhofe told reporters at the time. 

"The world we live in now has our troops in harm's way, has their families that need our support," Levin said at a December press conference. 

Now, Inhofe is in full deal-making mode again. He stepped out of a hearing at which the Joint Chiefs of Staff were set to testify last week and met privately with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., to talk about the next defense authorization bill. "It makes conference easier," he explained.

Inhofe is a proud defender of military activities—and the money that goes with them—in his home state. He brags that Oklahoma has always come out ahead during base realignment and closure decisions, because the communities around the bases in his state are so supportive, donating land for roads, schools, and hospitals to be used by the military. "You'd think this is true in every state, but it's not," he says.

Does his 20-year membership on the Armed Services Committee help in that capacity? "All I do is offset any bias that comes from other members," Inhofe says. "It seems like there's always someone trying to use political influence to gain some of the missions that we have done so well on in Oklahoma, and all I want to do is offset that."

Inhofe rejects the idea that the current budget constraints will restrict committee members' power to bring military goodies to their home states. This isn't the first time the defense budget has faced cuts, he says. He remembers protesting on the floor when President Clinton attempted to wield the ax. "We corrected that," Inhofe says. He sees Obama as an "extreme liberal" whose top goal is to disarm the military, but he thinks committee members have the power to slow down that process. "We've been through it before," he says.

Inhofe also has a soft side. He is keenly interested in Africa, and is on a first-name basis with many of the presidents of the continent's 52 countries. On one of his to trips to Ethiopia, Inhofe found an abandoned 2-day-old baby in a field. That girl is now his 14-year-old granddaughter, adopted by his daughter Molly.

His first trips to Africa, before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, were religious missions. "I'm a Jesus guy," he says. Now, in addition to his missionary work, he helps broker military-training arrangements with African countries to help them contend with terrorist cells.

Inhofe is running for his fourth full term as senator this year, a contest he should win handily. He fully expects the Republicans to take control of the Senate, which means he would step down as the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee and hand the gavel to Sen. John McCain of Arizona. McCain served for six years as committee ranking member before ceding the position to Inhofe due to term limits. Under Senate GOP rules, McCain can serve another six years as chairman.

If his party wins the Senate, Inhofe expects to lead the Environment and Public Works Committee—taking over from Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer—which would give him the opportunity to go after a host of environmental regulations. He was a land developer before he was elected to the House in 1986, and he says environmental rules were the biggest obstacles he faced. He considers it poetic justice that he is in line to chair the committee "that has jurisdiction over the very bureaucracy that tried to put me out of business for 20 years." Needless to say, if Inhofe winds up in the cockpit, he plans to pilot a bit differently.


Minority Committee Staff Members

By Christopher Hopkins: Click here to read online




Bonsell is ranking member James Inhofe's staff director on the committee, and he fits the position's archetype: loyal to his boss, revered by his staff, and dubious of the press.

Bonsell, 54, who declined to be interviewed, entered military service by way of an Army ROTC scholarship program at Pennsylvania State University, where he graduated with a degree in political science in 1981. Over the next 20 years, he held a variety of command and staff positions, including chief of concepts and doctrine for the Army. After being selected for colonel and brigade-level command, Bonsell retired from the Pentagon for family medical reasons.

From 2001 to 2007, Bonsell served as Inhofe's military legislative assistant, advising him on matters related to defense, homeland security, foreign relations, intelligence, and veterans' affairs. Bonsell then left government service to work as vice president for Robinson International, a chemical-testing company, before returning to Capitol Hill in February 2012 as Inhofe's legislative director.




Lazarski had a shot at becoming an Air Force general. He chose to work for Inhofe instead.

"I can count on one hand the number of members that I would do that for," Lazarski says. "Everyone knows that [Inhofe] is an advocate for a strong military. That's why I retired from the Air Force just months before my board was to decide whether I would be promoted."

As a top lieutenant to Bonsell, Lazarski has a portfolio that includes overseeing Air Force readiness, development, and procurement programs; military depots; U.S. Africa Command; and U.S. Transportation Command. A retired Air Force colonel with more than 2,300 flight hours in a dozen different models of aircraft, the well-liked, quick-witted 54-year-old is known by the sobriquet "Lazer."

Raised in North Arlington, N.J., Lazarski was inspired to join the Air Force by the moon landings of the 1960s and '70s. As a cadet at the Air Force Academy, he was selected for pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, and was soon flying F-111s out of Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. In the years that followed, he hopscotched around the globe, flying jets and performing other duties in the United Kingdom, Germany, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Italy, and elsewhere. Lazarski shoots model rockets with former NASA astronaut Tom Stafford, who was the commander of Apollo 10 in 1969. He is also active in the Cub Scouts—an activity not without peril. "Last weekend, I came back from a camping trip with three ticks," he says.



 Tom Goffus

"I remember mowing my front lawn and seeing them pass overhead," Goffus says of the fighter jets that captured his imagination when he was a teen growing up outside Pittsburgh. "No one in my family had been in the military before, but that kind of got me interested." 

Fast-forward 35 years, and Goffus is the main adviser to Inhofe on matters relating to Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and China. A former command pilot with more than 3,100 flight hours in the F-15, T-6, and T-37 aircraft, he came to the committee via the National Security Council and the State Department, and has experience navigating the interlocking parts of the U.S. national security apparatus. "It's kind of like trying to figure out a Rubik's Cube," Goffus says.

The self-deprecating 50-year-old, whose call sign is "Chum," attended the Air Force Academy and has master's degrees from the University of Washington (Seattle) and the Naval War College. He was commissioned in the Air Force in 1985 and commanded the 558th Flying Training Squadron at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas and the 55th Mission Support Group at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

Toward the end of his military service, Goffus was deployed to Afghanistan for six months. At one point, a high-ranking State Department official at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul told him, "You're able to talk to us, and we can understand you, which isn't always true when we're dealing with the Pentagon." He encouraged Goffus to apply for a position in the State Department after he returned from his command tour.

"I think he got more than he bargained for," Goffus says. "I ended up in the office right next to his; I'm sure he regretted that."