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Oklahoma Republicans condemn Lankford on immigration amid GOP infighting

United States Senator James Lankford speaking
KWGS File Photo
U.S. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma speaks to an audience at a luncheon on October 12, 2023.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Some members of the Oklahoma Republican Party voted Saturday to condemn U.S. Sen. James Lankford for working on a bipartisan immigration deal that they say runs counter to the state party’s platform.

But the former chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party said the resolution passed Saturday, which stated the Oklahoma Republican Party will “cease all support” for Lankford, occurred in an illegitimate meeting and does not represent the views of all Republicans in the state.

Republican Party Vice Chairman Wayne Hill called a Saturday meeting of the GOP State Committee, which governs the party, to vote on a series of issues and resolutions, including the measure condemning Lankford.

In an email Hill sent to his supporters at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, he said 172 Republicans attended the meeting in Oklahoma City and 124 members of the State Committee approved the resolution criticizing Lankford.

“It is our hope that Senator Lankford will acknowledge the direction of the State Committee and do all in his power to defend the border from the current invasion,” Hill wrote in the email.

The public rebuke is a largely symbolic gesture.

In a series of blog posts, Hill said he called the meeting without the backing of Republican Party Chairman Nathan Dahm, which has raised questions about the meeting’s legitimacy.

Nathan Dahm
Oklahoma Senate
Nathan Dahm

In a letter sent to members of the committee in advance of Saturday’s meeting, Dahm said Hill scheduled the event without adhering to the state party’s rules that require both the chairman and vice chairman to back a call for a State Committee meeting. Dahm told members of the committee that they were under no obligation to attend.

“Vice Chairman Hill has no authority to unilaterally call for a State Committee meeting in this manner,” Dahm wrote in the letter obtained by Oklahoma Voice. “For him to do so is to intentionally disregard the rules.”

Neither Hill nor Dahm responded to calls and text messages seeking comment on Sunday.

Lankford’s office also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The resolution says Lankford has been working with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on “an open border deal to allow 5,000 illegal immigrants a day to enter and work in the United States.”

Although Lankford has been working with a bipartisan group of senators for months on an immigration deal related to the U.S.-Mexico border, he has dismissed as false any talk that the agreement could allow for thousands of illegal border crossings.

In a Fox News appearance on Sunday, Lankford dismissed such comments as “internet rumors” and said senators are still working out the final details of the deal he said would be focused on returning immigrants entering the country illegally to their home countries.

“It would be absurd for me to agree to 5,000 people a day,” Lankford said. “This bill focuses on getting us to zero illegal crossings a day. There’s no amnesty. It increases the number of border patrol agents. It increases asylum officers and it increases detention beds so we can quickly detain and deport individuals. It ends catch and release. It focuses on additional deportation flights out. It changes our asylum process so that people get a fast asylum screening.”

Senate Republicans have demanded the Biden administration agree to immigration reforms at the U.S.-Mexico border before Congress will support the president’s request of more than $100 billion in aid for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan. Lankford has been at the forefront of the immigration negotiations.

The GOP resolution states the Oklahoma Republican Party platform supports limited legal immigration and opposes practices that would grant citizenship to immigrants who enter the country illegally faster than those who pursue legal paths to citizenship.

“Senator Lankford playing fast and loose with Democrats on our border policy not only disenfranchises legal immigrants seeking citizenship, but it also puts the safety and security of Americans in great danger,” the resolution states.

Former Republican Party Chairman A.J. Ferate posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, that “an extreme faction” of the party held Saturday’s meeting to attack Lankford. That faction did not provide an official meeting call to invite all members of the Republican State Committee, he wrote.

“Any vote taken by the OKGOP today was not legitimate and definitely does not represent the voice of all Oklahoma Republicans,” Ferate wrote.

The State Committee includes hundreds of the state’s most prominent Republicans.

Ferate served as chairman of the Republican Party before Dahm, a state senator, was elected chairman and Hill was elected vice chairman in May. In the months since, the GOP leaders have butted heads as Hill has increasingly tried to exert more influence over the party.

“The rules specify the role of the vice chairman,” Dahm wrote in the letter to members of the State Committee. “It is to assist the chairman in all his responsibilities. Not only has the vice chairman not done so, he has actively, intentionally and deliberately done the opposite of assisting. The vice chairman is like the vice president; they assist as requested and only step in when the presidency is vacant.”

Grassroots Republicans within the party also pushed for Lankford to be censured in 2021 after he certified Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory over former President Donald Trump. The GOP State Committee voted down that censure resolution.

Members of the State Committee on Saturday also were poised to take up resolutions censuring Republican Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn and endorsing former President Donald Trump’s reelection bid. It was not immediately clear Sunday if those resolutions were voted on or passed.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janelle Stecklein for questions: info@oklahomavoice.com. Follow Oklahoma Voice on Facebook and Twitter.
Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janelle Stecklein for questions: info@oklahomavoice.com. Follow Oklahoma Voice on Facebook and Twitter.