Sen. James Inhofe thinks it's time to calm down about this Iraqi prison matter.
In fact, he thinks it was time about four days ago.
In fact, this so-called "scandal" should never have been such a big deal to begin with.
"I'm not afraid of controversy," the Oklahoma Republican says. "I'm not afraid to say what's on my mind and what's on a lot of people's minds." He adds that his "current behavior is no different than it's always been."
Except that this "current behavior" landed him in a procession of greenrooms yesterday, and at the center of national attention, which is not typically where the junior senator from Oklahoma finds himself.
It began Tuesday morning when Inhofe, a member of the Armed Services Committee, expressed dismay during the hearings on the Abu Ghraib prison abuse. His dismay was not at the treatment of the prisoners so much as at all the hand-wringing it has generated. He called the prisoners "murderers, terrorists and insurgents," many of whom have "American blood on their hands."
And yet, he said incredulously, some people are troubled by how they were treated?
"I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment," he said.
This triggered outrage at Inhofe. But also a great deal of love from a faction of the population that had been largely silent to that point. Talk radio hosts hailed Inhofe, as did 10 Republican colleagues (by his count) to his face and a host of big-name conservatives.
"I just felt he put the situation in perspective and that it took a lot of courage to do so," says Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation. Weyrich, who hosts a Wednesday morning gathering of conservatives that Inhofe often attends, touted the senator's remarks at the weekly meeting yesterday. The gathering of 65 broke into applause.
Inhofe's office received 5,500 e-mails Tuesday -- up from about 100 on a typical day -- and about 70 percent of those were supportive, he says. "One of the consistent strains was, it's about time someone said something," Inhofe says.
He is sitting in a greenroom at Fox News early last night, waiting to appear on "The O'Reilly Factor," and fresh off an appearance on "Hardball." He says the Bush administration has been too contrite. "I didn't think it was necessary for the president to apologize the way he did." He says he has not heard from anyone in the White House since he made his remarks.
"That's strange, isn't it?" he says. "I'm one of [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld's very strong supporters. I thought I might hear from him. But oddly enough I didn't."
If Inhofe were chairman of the Armed Services Committee, he would not have held these hearings. "The more you stir it up, the worse it is," he says.
Inhofe, 69, is not well known outside Oklahoma. He has a gravelly voice, an uneasy smile and a tendency to mutter. He is a figure of defined goals, stubborn views and limited personal ambition, by senatorial standards. "I'm not running for anything," he says. "I don't have any needs."
Inhofe (pronounced IN-hoff) was raised in Tulsa, served in the Army and spent 35 years as a businessman. He was Tulsa's mayor in the early 1980s, was elected to the House in 1986 and the Senate in 1994. He has gained a reputation as a hard-core conservative, with particularly staunch views against gays. He fought strenuously against the Clinton administration's nomination of the openly gay James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg. He has said that he would never hire an openly gay staffer.
He wishes his sudden notoriety over the Abu Ghraib scandal would end. Not because he minds the attention -- this is, after all, a U.S. senator -- but because it's old news.
"We have seven bad guards," he says. "And I stress that that's seven out of 700 in that prison. They did things they should not have done. They are being punished. And they were being punished long before these pictures came out, so that's all behind us.
"It's been taken care of."