Live coverage: Pruitt faces grilling in House hearings

EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittDems expand 2018 message to ‘draining the swamp’ Dems to target GOP corruption in midterms: report Keeping Pruitt could cost GOP Congress, Trump in the fall MORE faces a make-or-break day Thursday on Capitol Hill with back-to-back congressional panels where he will be grilled over a series of controversies endangering his tenure at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Democrats have eagerly awaited their chance to challenge Pruitt on a number of ethics issues, while Republicans have shown impatience with his negative headlines despite their support for Pruitt's regulatory record.

The hearings before subpanels of the Energy and Commerce and the Appropriations committees are the embattled administrator's first in front of Congress since his future at the EPA came into question because of the string of controversies — including reports of a $50-per-night Capitol Hill condo lease from the wife of a prominent energy lobbyist and raises given to EPA aides without White House approval.

The hearings are meant to be about Pruitt’s budget request for fiscal 2019. The Trump administration proposed a $6.1 billion budget for the agency, a 25 percent cut.

Second hearing concludes

4:15 p.m.

Rep. Ken CalvertKenneth (Ken) Stanton CalvertMORE (R-Calif.) gaveled the Appropriations Committee subcommittee hearing to a close after roughly two hours of testimony from Pruitt.

Pruitt answered lawmakers' questions for nearly six hours total on the day, with Democrats seizing on his ethics controversies and lawmakers from both sides of the aisles pressing him on budget cuts and EPA policy stances.

He received periodic support from Republican lawmakers, who praised his work thus far and downplayed ethics concerns.

Rep Simpson: 'What is solid science?'

4:00 p.m.

Rep. Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonHouse panel votes to boost funding for Energy Dept., Army Corps Live coverage: Pruitt faces grilling in House hearings Green Party puts Dem seat at risk in Montana MORE (R-Idaho) questioned the veracity of currently used scientific findings, comparing the findings of scientific medical journals to comic books.

“What is solid science? Whether it’s The New England Journal of Medicine or the Bazooka comic books?” Simpson asked.

He added later, “Not that I'd equate the two.”

His comments come as Pruitt earlier this week announced a new EPA rule proposal that would limit the agency’s use of what he’s called “secret science.”

The proposal would prohibit the agency from citing scientific findings in their rule-making unless the science is available for public review. Critics have argued that the policy would significantly limit the number of studies the EPA could use when drafting regulations and would leave out the “best available science.”

“Is good science what I agree with, versus bad science is on the other side of the aisle?” Simpson asked in jest.

Pruitt told him that his “assessment is absolutely right.”

“The science that is reproducible and transparent should drive our decisions at the agency,” he said. “We should be agnostic about the source.”

– Miranda Green

Rep. McCollum: 'It's time you resign'

3:40 p.m.

Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumHouse lawmakers vote to give modest budget cuts to EPA, Interior How the embassy move widens the partisan divide over Israel Five takeaways from Pruitt's big testimony MORE (D-Minn.) told EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, "I think it's time you resign."

Speaking to the administrator on her second round of questioning, McCollum called Pruitt's answers so far "not satisfactory."

"Your staff has been under attack during your tenure. You publicly blamed your staff instead of taking responsibility for your wasteful spending," McCollum told Pruitt. "It seems to be a pattern."

"I've held back on doing this like some of my other colleagues have," McCollum said, "but Mr. Pruitt, I think it's time you resign."

– Miranda Green  

Dem question’s Pruitt’s death threat claims

3:15 p.m.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) questioned Pruitt’s claims that he has received multiple death threats while in office.

The threats are the EPA’s main justification for Pruitt’s elevated security posture, including a 24/7 security detail that has cost more than $3 million and frequently flying first class.

McCollum, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee for the EPA, said her staff asked the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) about claims Pruitt made at the earlier hearing about death threats.

“We asked IG [Arthur] Elkins about such comments, and he disputed your claim,” McCollum said.

She asked if Pruitt wanted to correct his earlier statement that “the inspector general himself” documented the death threats. “Did the inspector general him or herself tell you that you did not face death threats, that they have not found death threats?”

Pruitt had a copy of a “threat assessment” from the OIG. He read two of the death threats, which he said came through Facebook and Twitter.

McCollum wasn’t impressed.

“We all receive death threats on our Facebook page,” she said. “We all do.”

— Timothy Cama

Pruitt continues to shift blame while promising ‘changes’

2:47 p.m.

Pruitt shifted blame on a number of issues, including his use of first-class travel, unauthorized staff raises and construction of a soundproof privacy booth.

Speaking to lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee subpanel, Pruitt said that his decision to change from flying coach to first class came after a number of threats made to him. He cited an Inspector General (IG) report on the threats as proof that a change to his method of flying was necessary, saying, “I was flying coach. I made changes after the threats.”

He also cited these threats to defend his security in testimony in a separate morning hearing.

Pruitt cited two examples written in the IG report for why his around-the-clock security team was necessary.

Pruitt spoke as two members of his security team sat directly behind him in the hearing room, one wearing an earpiece.

The administrator maintained that he no longer flies first class, calling news surrounding it “a distraction.”

On the agency’s approval to provide substantial raises to two EPA staffers that moved to D.C. from Oklahoma with Pruitt — one of which Pruitt has previously described as a “close friend” — the chief said he was not aware of the type or amount of the raises.

He said after media reports surfaced he directed his chief of staff Ryan Jackson to change them. Jackson has previously taken the blame for approving the raises.

Pruitt doubled down on comments he made earlier that he was not aware of the exorbitant nearly $43,000 cost of a privacy booth installed in his office, saying he was not responsible for signing off on the booth and blaming “career staffers” for being involved “from the beginning to the end.” 

Pruitt added: “My objective to speak with you today is to provide confidence, and recognize faults where they have occurred and make sure they don’t happen in the future.”

– Miranda Green  

GOP chairman slams Pruitt’s proposed budget cuts

2:45 p.m.

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) opened the Appropriations Committee hearing by sharply criticizing Pruitt’s proposal to cut around 25 percent from the EPA’s budget.

“While some reductions may be in order, cuts of this magnitude put important programs at risk,” the chairman of the subcommittee with authority over the EPA’s funding said, pointing to eliminations or cuts the Trump administration is proposing to state grants, programs to clean up major waterways and grants to clean up diesel pollution.

“States rely heavily on these funds,” Calvert said of the state grants.

Calvert only alluded briefly to Pruitt’s spending and ethics scandals.

“We will continue to provide necessary oversight to ensure that EPA and other agencies under this subcommittee’s jurisdiction are held accountable, remain good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars and comply with congressional notification requirements,” he said.

The EPA was charged with violating a legal requirement to notify Calvert’s committee before exceeding a $5,000 cap on furnishing Pruitt’s office when it built a $43,000 soundproof booth for Pruitt.

The panel’s leading Democrat also focused mostly on criticizing Pruitt over his proposed budget cuts.

“The FY [fiscal] 2019 EPA budget is reckless, it’s irresponsible, and it’s unrealistic,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (Minn.), the subcommittee’s top Democrat.

McCollum, who lived directly under Pruitt when he rented a Capitol Hill condo from a lobbyist for just $50 per night he spent there, also criticized the EPA head over ethics.

“In just one year as EPA administrator, you have violated the public trust by abusing EPA resources and taxpayer dollars,” McCollum said. “Your decisions and actions have displayed a disregard for the ethical standards to which all public officials should adhere.”

– Timothy Cama

Second Pruitt hearing gavels in

2:10 p.m.

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) opened up EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's second House hearing of the day.

Calvert, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on environment, started the hearing telling Pruitt of worries he had concerning the administrator's suggested budget cuts for the EPA for fiscal 2019.

"Cuts of this magnitude will severely impact our ability to meet statutory requirements," said Calvert.

He ended saying he found Pruitt's other commitments, such as fixing Superfunds, "A promising improvement."

Miranda Green 

First hearing comes to a close

1:50 p.m.

Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusOvernight Energy: House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuke waste plan | EPA won't reverse danger findings for paint stripping chemical | County sues oil companies over climate House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project Overnight Energy: Interior sending officers to southern border | Dem AGs want EPA to halt plan restricting use of science | EPA documents show secrecy push MORE (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, gaveled Thursday's hearing with Pruitt to a close after nearly four hours.

Pruitt is on to his next hearing, which is scheduled for 2 p.m., with a subpanel of the House Appropriations Committee. He is expected to face more adversarial questioning from Democrats in his second hearing of the day.

Dem rep criticizes 'embarrassing' questioning from Republicans

1:26 p.m.

Rep. Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorUS lawmakers celebrate the royal wedding EPA approved aide to work for GOP firm, Florida lawmaker Live coverage: Pruitt faces grilling in House hearings MORE (D-Fla.) took aim at Republicans who serve on the subcommittee, arguing that they let Pruitt off easy.

“I have to say that I’m disappointed in a lot of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle that have let the admin off the hook today by barely asking any tough questions,” she said.

“There are a few exceptions and my hat’s off to them,” she continued. “Maybe they’re trying to save his job because they’re worried if he doesn’t perform well today he’ll be fired.”

"Either way, it’s embarrassing that most of the Republicans refuse to take this committee’s oversight responsibility seriously and hold you accountable," she concluded.

A number of committee Republicans criticized Democrats for using the hearing to question Pruitt over his ethics controversies. Several noted that they hoped to focus on policy questions.

— Brett Samuels

GOP rep takes on Pruitt

12:55 p.m.

Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) expressed a variety of concerns over Pruitt’s scandals and endorsed some Democratic criticisms.

“I think the opprobrium that you’ve generated on some of these spending decisions is actually warranted. I’ve reviewed your answers and I find some of them lacking or insufficient,” Costello told Pruitt.

“I believe you’ve not demonstrated the requisite degree of good judgment required of an appointed executive branch official on some of these spending items.”

Costello, who is leaving Congress after this year and not running for reelection, also brought up Pruitt taking his security detail on personal trips.

“When folks read about trips to Disneyland, professional basketball games, the Rose Bowl, and the additional security detail related to that, that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people,” Costello said.

Pruitt defended the privacy booth by repeating his earlier claim that career employees at EPA made all of the decisions regarding it, not him.

As for the security, Pruitt said the EPA’s inspector general has investigated various death threats against him and that those threats justify the security measures.

“These are threats the IG has documented,” Pruitt said. “The IG has said that threats to me as administrator are unprecedented.”

— Timothy Cama

Pruitt defends need for his additional security

12:46 p.m.

The EPA chief defended his need for increased security measures, which include a 24/7 security detail and a vehicle with bulletproof seat covers, because of “documented” threats.

Scott Pruitt cited two examples from an Inspector General report on his "threat investigation” for why he needs a round-the-clock security detail and has routinely flown first class during travel for business.

The two examples Pruitt read were verbal threats made to Pruitt and his family.

One, Pruitt said, read: “Pruitt I’m going to find you and put a bullet through your eyes, don’t think I'm joking, I’m planning this.”

Another incident cited in the report seemingly mentioned a threat made to Pruitt’s daughter McKenna.

“Threats were directed towards her father, ‘I hope your father dies soon, suffering as your mother watches in horror watching for hours on end,’” Pruitt read.

Rep. Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloTrump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress GOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan Partisan fractures in Pennsylvania’s primary MORE (R-Pa.) said the public was having a hard time swallowing Pruitt’s need for security detail at outings such as one he made to Disneyland.

“When folks read about trips to Disneyland, professional basketball games, the Rose Bowl, and the additional security detail needed for that, that doesn’t sit well with people,” Costello said.

Pruitt promised that he’d provide Costello with the IG report saying they found the threats against him were “unprecedented.”

— Miranda Green

Dem rep tears into Pruitt: ‘This is not dodge question day’

12:47 p.m.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) tore into Pruitt for his evasiveness on questions about ethics controversies.

“You have a solid record of breaking ethics rules from the state level up to the federal government. I think it’s an embarrassment to our country and I think it’s offensive to constituents,” she said, asking the administrator if he had any remorse for his spending habits. 

“I echo your comments. I think that what you said is absolutely true about the public trust and I endeavor to live in a way that respects that,” Pruitt said, as Eshoo attempted to cut in to emphasize her question. 

“You’re not going to outtalk me,” she said.

She then asked if Pruitt planned to reimburse taxpayers for any of his travel costs, noting he took several flights back to his home state of Oklahoma in the last year. 

Pruitt responded that the government had cleared those trips as official business. 

“I may be elected but I’m not a fool,” Eshoo responded. “That’s really a lousy answer from somebody who has a high position in the federal government. I mean, this is not dodge question day.”

— Brett Samuels

Pruitt promises to protect EPA whistleblowers

12:22 p.m.

Pruit promised that EPA employee whistleblowers will be protected.

In response to a question from Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), Pruitt said whistleblower protections were "absolutely" something he could commit to.

While Pruitt said “there are no actions we’ve taken, that I’m aware of” regarding assigning employees based on their criticism, he said he takes whistleblowers seriously.

“This is not one of those situations, but absolutely that is something I can commit to you and will commit to you,” Pruitt told Harper. “Absolutely, I think that’s how we get better. I think that’s how we improve outcomes and processes.”

— Miranda Green

Pruitt: I didn’t approve $43,000 privacy booth

12:10 p.m.

Pruitt told lawmakers that had played almost no role in approving the $43,000 privacy booth for his office.

The EPA head said he requested a secure phone line, but blamed career employees at the agency for what it became: a $43,000 soundproof booth on par with the kind used for classified information communications.

“I did have a phone call that came in, of a sensitive nature, and I did not have access to secure communications. I gave direction to my staff to address that,” Pruitt said when Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) asked about it.

“And out of that came a $43,000 expenditure that I did not approve.”

“Career individuals at the agency took that process through and signed off on it all the way through,” Pruitt continued. “I was not involved in the approval of the $43,000, and if I’d known about it, congressman, I would have refused it.”

Cárdenas didn’t buy it.

“That seems a bit odd,” he said. “If something happens in my office, especially to the degree of $43,000, I know about it before, during and after.”

— Timothy Cama

Rep. DeGette: I’m not doing this to hassle you

11:37 a.m.

Rep. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteDems withhold support for immigration petition EPA approved aide to work for GOP firm, Florida lawmaker Pruitt: EPA lawyers said privacy booth was legal MORE (D-Colo.) told EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt during her questioning that her intent was not personal.

Following a line of questioning about an Oklahoma property, which Pruitt purchased a one-sixth share in, DeGette told Pruitt, “I’m not doing this to hassle you.”

“Because as elected officials and appointed officials we have the public trust,” she continued. “Everything we do has to be to the highest ethical standards — as you just agreed with me, and when we have these transactions it brings disrespect to us as public officials.”

DeGette’s time was cut off shortly after.

— Miranda Green

Pruitt: EPA lawyers said privacy booth was legal

11:35 a.m.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt blamed agency lawyers for the controversy over his $43,000 soundproof privacy booth, saying that the attorneys believed it was legal.

The Government Accountability Office ruled last week that the expenditures were illegal. Congress put a $5,000 cap on expenses to furnish or decorate agency heads’ offices, though it can be exceeded if the agency notifies Congress, a step that the EPA didn’t take.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) repeatedly asked if Pruitt knew that the booth expenditures were illegal.

The EPA’s Office of General Counsel “has indicated, again, that their opinion is that it’s not a violation,” Pruitt said.

DeGette tried to find out if Pruitt or his staff knew that the booth was illegal, but Pruitt repeated that the counsel’s office thought it was illegal.

“I’m sorry, you can’t filibuster, sir,” the congresswoman responded.

DeGette also asked if the EPA would punish anybody for the violation.

“We are investigating this internally with appropriate individuals both here as well as the inspector general,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt has justified the booth by saying that he needs to be able to have secure phone conversations with parties like the White House. It is not a certified sensitive compartmentalized information facility, a certification for facilities used to view or communicate classified information.

— Timothy Cama

Pruitt grilled on EPA employee’s ‘appearances of bias’

11:06 a.m.

Rep. Scott PetersScott H. PetersOvernight Energy: Two top Pruitt aides resign at EPA | 17 states sue EPA over car emissions rules | Volkswagen to pay West Virginia .5M over emissions cheating Top Pruitt aide who was banned from banking sector out at EPA Live coverage: Pruitt faces grilling in House hearings MORE (D-Calif.) bombarded EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt with questions over relationships and decisions he’s made with EPA employees that may appear to show partiality.

Peters peppered Pruitt with questions about John Konkus, the EPA’s deputy associate administrator who was approved to provide outside media consulting, and Pasquale Perrotta, the head of Pruitt’s security detail who moonlit for tabloid news publisher American Media Inc. during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Pruitt said both current EPA employees were cleared by the EPA ethics office.

Pruitt said he didn’t “know anything” about Konkus’s contract for outside work but added, “I’m aware that the ethics officials at the agency approved this.”

He didn’t answer questions as to whether these outside jobs would show an apparent conflict of interest.

Peters also asked Pruitt about his hiring of Jeff Sands, a former pesticide lobbyist at Syngenta, as senior advisor to the administrator for agriculture at the EPA.

In February, the EPA agreed to reduce the fine on Syngenta for violating pesticide regulations to $150,000.

Pruitt said he was not personally involved in the decision making process on the fines.

“For people outside the agency, what that fingers inside the agency could be a lack of independence,” Peters told Pruitt.

— Miranda Green

GOP rep: Dems rhetoric a 'classic display of innuendo and McCarthyism'

11:05 a.m.

Some committee Republicans have spoken up in EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's defense during his morning hearing with a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

Rep. David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleyOvernight Health Care: Drug exec apologizes for large opioid shipments | Schumer vows to be 'relentless' in tying GOP to premium hikes | House panel advances VA reform bill Distributor executive apologizes for large opioid shipments The costs of carbon taxes are real — and crippling MORE (R-W.Va.) opened his questioning by criticizing Democrats for focusing on Pruitt’s ethics controversies rather than policy.

He called Democratic rhetoric “a classic display of innuendo and McCarthyism that unfortunately ... I think works against civility and respect.”

“I’m hoping we would be able to stay on policy as much as we could but some I see just can’t resist the limelight, the opportunity to grandstand,” he added. 

McKinley went on to praise Pruitt’s work thus far, noting that the EPA approved a grant to study issues with the drinking water in Flint, Mich., and called its policies “good for the environment.” 

Rep. Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonFive Republican run-offs to watch in Texas GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team Leaders warn Republicans against forcing immigration vote MORE (R-Texas) suggested that Pruitt is a victim of “Washington politics,” where opponents of an administration's policy tend to attack a Cabinet member personally.

“Republicans do it when it’s a Democratic president, Democrats do it when it’s a Republican president,” he said.

— Brett Samuels

Protesters hold ‘Mr. Corruption’ signs behind Pruitt

10:55 a.m.

A handful of protesters at the hearing hoisted small signs labeling EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt “Mr. Corruption,” with Pruitt’s portrait, behind him.

It was the first sign of protest within the hearing room at the blockbuster event. Groups of protesters also greeted Pruitt outside the Rayburn House Office Building when he arrived in the morning.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the hearing chairman, threatened to have the protesters removed, but they were allowed to stay.

“I have some magic words that will then cause you to have to leave. I do not want to say that,” he said.

Capitol Police officers told the protesters to take the signs down and warned them that if they came up again, the protesters would be removed. The protesters complied.

— Timothy Cama

Pallone calls Pruitt 'an embarrassment' to Trump administration

10:50 a.m.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHouse lawmaker introduces bill to halt F-35 sale to Turkey Watchdog to conduct ethics training for FCC after CPAC controversy House to vote to send 'right to try' bill to Trump’s desk next week MORE (N.J.), the full committee's top Democrat, clashed with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt during his line of questioning, blasting him over his recent ethics controversies and specific EPA policies.

“You said you’re staying because only you can carry out the president’s mission. I strongly disagree with that. I think your actions are an embarrassment to Mr. Trump,” Pallone said. 

“If I were the president I wouldn’t want your help. I’d just get rid of you,” he added.

Pallone first questioned Pruitt about allegations he retaliated against employees who disagreed with him and whether he received death threats.

He later moved on to questions about the agency’s policies toward certain chemicals but was largely dismissive of Pruitt’s answers.

Pruitt attempted to provide explanations, but Pallone said he was seeking “yes or no” responses that Pruitt was unwilling to provide. The congressman suggested the administrator was not interested in taking responsibility for his agency’s practices.

— Brett Samuels 

Pruitt says he didn’t know details about controversial raises

10:40 a.m.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt didn’t deny that he knew about controversial raises given to two aides, but he said he wasn’t aware of the amounts of the raises, nor that his staff bypassed the usual White House approval process.

The EPA gave big raises to Millan Hupp and Sarah Greenwalt, two longtime aides of Pruitt’s who came to the EPA with him from Oklahoma. The agency used a special authority to give the raises after the White House rejected Pruitt’s request.

Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuke waste plan | EPA won't reverse danger findings for paint stripping chemical | County sues oil companies over climate House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project Repeating history with octane biofuel standards is a huge mistake MORE (D-N.Y.) pressed Pruitt on documents that seem to show that Pruitt knew of the raises and approved them, even though his chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, signed off on them.

“Those were delegated to Mr. Jackson,” Pruitt said. “That decision was made by my staff … there are delegations giving him that authority.”

Tonko repeatedly asked Pruitt if that meant he approved of the raises, but Pruitt didn’t directly answer.

“I was not aware of the amount, nor was I aware of the bypassing or the [White House Presidential Personnel Office] process not being respected,” Pruitt responded.

Documents released by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General showed Jackson signing off on the raises, noting “for Scott Pruitt.”

Pruitt earlier this month denied to Fox News’s Ed Henry that he knew of the raises and said he reversed them as soon as he learned.

— Timothy Cama

Pruitt calls stories against him ‘half-truths’ and ‘twisted’

10:29 a.m.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt closed his opening statement to the committee by addressing the various media reports on his questionable spending and ethics decisions, calling them “half-truths” and blaming “troubling media reports.”

“Facts are facts and fiction is fiction, a lie doesn't just become the truth because it’s on the front page of a newspaper,” Pruitt told the committee.

He added that the reports about him and his team are “half-truths or, at best, stories that have been so twisted that they do not resemble reality.”

Pruitt’s words, which weren’t previously a part of his opening statement released Wednesday, were meant to clear the air.

It was previously expected that Pruitt would not address the various scandals that plagued his tenure unless asked directly by a member of Congress.

“As I sit before you today I recognize that there has been very troubling media reports,” Pruitt said. “Let me be very clear, I having nothing to hide as it relates to how I’ve run the agency over the past 16 months.”

Nevertheless, Pruitt did appear to take some responsibility for decisions he’s made at the agency, saying it’s “been a learning process” and promising to take into account recommendations from Congress an outside independent watchdog entities such as the Government Accountability Office and the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General.

“I’m not afraid to admit that there’s been a learning process and when Congress or independent bodies of oversight find fault in our decision making, I want to correct that and ensure that it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

— Miranda Green

Dems highlight Pruitt's ethics questions, call for resignation

10:20 a.m.

The leading Democrats on the panel were harsher in their initial statements.

“Administrator Pruitt has brought secrecy, conflicts of interest and scandal to the EPA. In any other administration, Republican or Democrat, you would be long gone by now,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the full committee’s top Democrat.

Pallone reiterated the call he made along with 169 other Democrats for Pruitt to resign.

Rep. Paul Tonko (N.Y.), the Environment Subcommittee’s top Democrat, was also critical and called on the GOP to speak more forcefully against Pruitt.

“I know there are those in the majority that support rollbacks of EPA rules,” Tonko said. “But all of us should be troubled by the numerous reports of misuse of taxpayer dollars and apparent conflicts of interest that have made the administrator a frequent subject of investigation.”

— Timothy Cama

GOP chairman to Pruitt: Controversies ‘are too persistent to ignore’

10:15 a.m.

The head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee opened Thursday’s hearing with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt by imploring him to explain recent scandals.

Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: Mnuchin urges antitrust review of tech | Progressives want to break up Facebook | Classified election security briefing set for Tuesday | Tech CEOs face pressure to appear before Congress Post-Zuckerberg, tech CEOs under pressure to testify Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Google struggle to block terrorist content | Cambridge Analytica declares bankruptcy in US | Company exposed phone location data | Apple starts paying back taxes to Ireland MORE (R-Ore.), the panel’s chairman, said he’s happy with much of the policy agenda under Pruitt.

“I am concerned that the good progress being made on the policy front is being undercut by the allegations about your management of the agency and use of its resources,” Walden said.

“These issues are too persistent to ignore, and I know many members are looking for more clarity from you today.”

Walden said Pruitt must understand “that members on both sides of the aisle also have serious questions” on Pruitt’s management of the agency.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who chairs the committee’s Environment Subcommittee, was less critical of Pruitt, but still raised the issues.

“From a policy perspective, and from my seat outside the agency, I am generally pleased with the direction you are taking the EPA,” he said in his opening statement.

Shimkus said much of the “narrative” around his spending and ethical problems is a “distraction, but one this committee cannot ignore,” and asked Pruitt to explain himself.

— Timothy Cama