WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden drew mixed reviews from both sides of the aisle regarding his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, but the Oklahoma delegation made clear its disappointment.
Biden’s speech focused on energy, infrastructure, inflation and a message of unity during the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
But the delegation heard something else.
“The speech we heard from President Biden tonight was just that — talk. I am incredibly disappointed in this administration’s continued harm of Oklahomans and America.” Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said in a statement.
The consensus among Oklahoma’s congressional members, however, included agreement with Biden’s stance on Ukraine.
But both U.S. Reps. Tom Cole (R-OK4) and Kevin Hern (R-OK1) said they wished Biden would have used his speech to tighten the grip around Russia by announcing his commitment to banning the purchase of oil from Russia.
“That would immediately have stopped any kind of money from going to Russia,” Hern said in an interview with Gaylord News. “The estimate right now is that there’s some $700 million a day of payments from Europe and the United States combined that are going to Russia to buy oil and gas from Russia.”
The congressman said he believes Biden would have gotten “a roaring round of applause” from the chamber if he had agreed to limit petroleum purchases from Russia.
“Oklahomans would have been cheering, Texans would have been cheering,” Hern said. “He would have been a hero for so many. Not just within the United States, but for people across Europe, our strongest allies during this troubled time in Ukraine.”
Lankford: ‘Replace Russia’s customers’
Oklahoma is currently ranked eighth in the United States based on barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) production. The state also boasts 5 percent of the nation’s crude oil reserves and 7 percent of its natural gas reserves. One in four jobs in Oklahoma is related to energy production. U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) believes that increasing Oklahoma oil and gas production would be a long-term solution to reliance on Russian oil. This increase would boost the most significant part of Oklahoma’s economy.
“We need to actually replace Russia’s customers around the world so that we can prevent Putin from having the money to murder his neighbors,” Lankford said.
Cole and other members of the delegation blamed the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline for the United States’ increased energy dependence on foreign production.
“Amid an energy crisis at home, created by the president’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline and moratoriums on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, continuing to rely on Russia for oil leaves America more vulnerable to foreign threats,” Cole said in a statement.
However, critics of Keystone XL have cited that the pipeline would have primarily benefited Canadian oil and gas and even created additional competition for domestic oil producers. The estimated 11,000 jobs would have also been temporary and may have resulted in only 35 full-time positions that either Americans or Canadians could do.
Biden also spoke about his infrastructure plans and the beginning of an “infrastructure decade,” with plans to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The president said he hopes to build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations and start fixing over 65,000 miles of highway and 1,500 bridges “in disrepair.”
Oklahoma’s support for electric vehicles was reaffirmed this week when Gov. Kevin Stitt committed $15 million to Canoo, an electric car company with factories in the state. Potential electric car infrastructure in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law could help tip the scales in favor of the emerging industry and boost Oklahoma’s electric vehicle sector.
Hern, a former finance committee chairman for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, said repairing miles of highway and bridges would benefit Oklahomans.
“There’s probably nobody in Congress, literally nobody, that understands (better) what it costs to build a mile of road or maintain a mile of road,” Hern said, “The president was disingenuous in saying that Republicans didn’t care about infrastructure, we do.”
During his speech, Biden also re-emphasized the importance of fighting inflation through American manufacturing. He urged companies to “lower your costs, not your wages” and “make it in America.”
U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK3) agreed with President Biden’s assertion that American technological superiority “has never been more important,” but he criticized the Democrats for their lack of action.
“Democrats have been saying for months now that the CHIPS Act and research and development funding are priorities, but we’ve yet to see any real action,” Lucas said.
The CHIPS Act would establish a “Multilateral Semiconductors Security Fund” and help the United States maintain a “robust manufacturing base in strategic industries.” The bill has yet to be passed in Congress.