Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and a leading conservative voice in Congress on climate issues, said GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney should stop trying to “play both sides” on key environmental issues.
Mr. Inhofe spoke to The Washington Times a day after he endorsed the presidential bid of Mr. Romney’s top rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow climate-change skeptic.
“I think people need to make up their minds,” said Mr. Inhofe. “You know, we’ve had a lot of time, 10 years we’ve been thinking about this. We ought to decide where we are and not try to play both sides.”
For conservatives like Mr. Inhofe, Mr. Romney has a checkered history on issues such as global warming. As governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney signed on to a regional “cap-and-trade” carbon-reduction plan, though he later withdrew, citing a lack of economic safeguards. While Mr. Romney now opposes federal cap-and-trade legislation, he has said repeatedly that he thinks greenhouse-gas emissions are a “contributing factor” to climate change.
On Thursday in New Hampshire, though, Mr. Romney again hedged his language on the issue.
“Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that, but I think that it is,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.”
Mr. Inhofe, who says he knows Mr. Romney personally and likes him “very much,” speculated that Mr. Romney was trying to “broaden himself to capture part of the other side.”
“I think it’s not a good political move,” Mr. Inhofe said. “It doesn’t show a lot of strength when you don’t have a firm opinion on an issue that’s been around for 10 years.”
The issue of climate change has re-emerged in the GOP race after Mr. Perry said last week that he thinks climate change had been “politicized” and that there were “a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” The remarks prompted former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. — an unapologetic believer in manmade climate change — to fret publicly that the GOP was at risk of being seen as the “anti-science party.”
Mr. Inhofe, who will campaign with Mr. Perry in Oklahoma on Monday, said that the Texas governor’s environmental record was not the only factor behind his support, citing his economic record and electability.
“I honestly believe in my heart that Rick Perry will compete better against Obama than anybody else,” he said. “He’s taller than Obama. He’s good-looking like Obama. He is pretty fixed in his ideology, like Obama, except it’s the right ideology.”
Mr. Inhofe, who said he had also been enthusiastic about Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, before he decided against a run, said he called Mr. Perry 14 months ago.
“I said, ‘I know you’ve said you’re not running, but I bet you will be running,’ ” he said. “And when you announce, I want to be the first United States senator to support you.”
“I know that everyone’s saying, ‘Well, it’s going to be another warmed-over George Bush or another governor of Texas,” he added. “Well, I’ll tell you, every day that goes by, George Bush looks better.”