WASHINGTON -- One of the most partisan Republicans in the Senate, Oklahoma's Jim Inhofe, said Sunday that his "attitude" toward Senate Democrats has changed as a result of the outpouring of sympathy he received from colleagues after the death of his son. Perry Inhofe, 52, was killed in a plane crash in November.
"I probably shouldn't say this, but I seem to have gotten more -- well at least as many, maybe more -- communications from some of my Democrat friends," Inhofe told host David Gregory on NBC's "Meet the Press." "And I'm a pretty partisan Republican."
In the wake of his personal tragedy, Inhofe said, "all of a sudden the old barriers that were there -- the old differences, those things that keep us apart -- just disappear. It's not just a recognition that I know how much more important this is, but they do, too. And they look out. And they realize that you've lost someone. And that brings us closer together."
During three terms in the Senate, Inhofe has established a reputation as a take-no-prisoners political brawler, and as a legislator whose ideology is both fiscally and socially to the right of many in his party. An outspoken skeptic of the scientific evidence for man-made climate change, Inhofe has butted heads on the Senate floor over the issue with nearly every member of the Democratic leadership.
When news of his son's death reached Washington, however, politics were quickly set aside. And even though Inhofe is a legendary thorn in the side of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the loss of Inhofe's son served to underscore for him the things that he and Reid have in common.
"Harry and I ... disagree on all this stuff, this political stuff. But we were both married the same year, in 1959. And we've both had some illnesses. So yeah, I would say that when something like this happens, you get closer together. The differences are still there. ... But your attitude changes," said Inhofe.
Like Inhofe, Reid is an unapologetic partisan. But in a speech Reid gave on the Senate floor shortly after Perry Inhofe's death, the Majority Leader described the genuine friendship he's formed with the Oklahoma Republican. "I really care a lot about Jim Inhofe, and he and I are unquestionably friends," Reid told the assembled senators. "We may not agree on all political issues, but we agree that we're friends. I've helped him when I could, and he's helped me when he can."
As friends, Reid said, he and Inhofe "put all the disagreements to one side and look at each other for what we are, outside of our politics."
On Sunday, Inhofe suggested that his change of heart is likely to extend beyond personal dynamics to his work in the Senate. "I can't help but think when I'm confronting someone on something in which we disagree, I'll know how they responded to my loss. And how we got closer. And it'll stay that way," he said.