Inhofe eyes Russian, Chinese threats in first major speech as Armed Services chairman

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) sounded the alarm on China and Russia on Thursday in what was billed as his first major public address since taking the reins of the committee.

“They are doing some things that’s actually better than we’re doing it,” Inhofe said during the speech at the National Defense University. “When I look and I see some of the equipment that they have compared to ours, you know, they’ve been busy.”

The comments largely echo arguments Inhofe and other defense hawks have made for years.

But Thursday’s speech comes as Inhofe, who officially became chairman in September after Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCohen’s pleas concocted by prosecutors to snare Trump Overnight Defense: Senate Armed Services chair eyes Russia, China threats | Pushes Trump not to cut defense budget | Mattis says US looking for more Khashoggi evidence Dem strategist says Trump should not have attended George H.W. Bush's funeral MORE’s (R-Ariz.) death, is working to change President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Ayers decision casts harsh light on Trump NASA offers to show Stephen Curry evidence from moon landings Freedom Caucus calls on leadership to include wall funding, end to 'catch and release' in funding bill MORE’s mind about a plan to cut next year’s defense budget. Inhofe has bolstered his argument in large part on a commission report released last month that warns the military “might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia.”

Trump has ordered the Pentagon to prepare a $700 billion defense budget for fiscal 2020, a $16 billion cut from this year and $33 billion less than originally planned for 2020.

Inhofe, though, is arguing that even a $733 billion budget is simply flat compared to this year because of inflation and that a cut would reverse progress made on addressing readiness issues.

Inhofe and his current House counterpart went to the White House earlier in the week to press Trump on the issue.

Inhofe said Thursday they spent two hours with Trump, Vice President Pence, national security adviser John Bolton and other administration officials. The discussion focused on the same points he was making Thursday, Inhofe said.

“The main thing is to make sure that we are going to be in a position to compete primarily with our peer competitors, and let me tell you, the president knows that,” Inhofe said. "There's no strategic rationale for any cut."

Inhofe also took a shot at “liberals” who insist on parity between the defense and nondefense budgets. Inhofe has been arguing that defense should be exempt from budget caps, while nondefense should remain under the caps, a non-starter for Democrats.

Democrats will take control of the House in January, and leaders have said trimming the defense budget is a priority. Budget experts, though, have said Democrats are likely to agree to a defense increase if there is a nondefense increase as well as they have in the past.

Building his case for a defense budget increase, Inhofe specifically warned about China’s progress on building aircraft carriers and its military buildup in the South China Sea.

“Our allies in the part of the world — I’m talking about the Philippines, all of them over there — they think that [China is] preparing for World War III,” Inhofe said. “They look at them and all their presence and all the things they’re doing down there, and they look at us doing very little, and they’re trying to decide whose side they’re going to be on.”

On Russia, Inhofe warned about its progress on hypersonic weapons.

"[Russian President Vladimir] Putin lies a lot, so I don’t believe this, but he said, ‘We have now passed up the United States in our hypersonics,’ ” Inhofe said. “Both China and Russia, primarily Russia, is making great headway there.”