Jim Inhofe, the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the top Republican defense voice in the Senate, announced on Thursday he will retire from Congress at the end of the year.

The move comes with almost four years left in Inhofe’s current Senate term and could leave a significant leadership void in the Senate GOP’s military caucus.

Inhofe, 87, told The Oklahoman in an interview that he and his wife, Kay, “have decided that we need to have time together.” Her health has deteriorated in recent years.

Inhofe has been the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee since 2018, serving in both the ranking member role and as chairman for two years. He succeeded longtime-Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in that role.

Under Oklahoma law, Inhofe had to announce his retirement before March 1 to trigger a special election to fill the Senate seat later this year.

The former Tulsa mayor and Army veteran has represented Oklahoma in Congress since 1987, first in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate since 1994.

Inhofe has been a staunch supporter of larger military budgets and increased end strength, and a critic of defense cutbacks in recent Democratic presidential administrations. More recently, he pushed for the United States to provide more military assistance to foreign allies, particularly Ukraine.

He was also a vocal advocate for the 2018 National Defense Strategy that prioritized a focus on Russia and China, and would often wield a paper copy in hearings to make points about the country’s defense spending needs.

During Donald Trump’s presidency, Inhofe worked to balance support for the Republican commander in chief with pressure to raise defense budgets higher than the White House wanted. He also publicly struggled to counter Trump’s plans to slash America’s troop presence in Europe.

Though Trump endorsed his reelection in 2020, the relationship fractured soon after, when Congress overrode the president’s veto of the annual defense policy bill, with Inhofe defying Trump on the vote.

The second-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee is Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Whoever succeeds Inhofe in the leadership role could become chairman of the powerful military affairs panel next year if Republicans take the majority in the Senate after this fall’s elections.

Inhofe told The Oklahoman that he wants to work on one last annual defense authorization bill before leaving Congress, predicting that this year’s will be difficult. He also endorsed his chief of staff, Luke Holland, in the upcoming special election to serve out the remainder of his Senate term, which ends in 2026.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.

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