GOP rejects Dems’ attempt to stop Pruitt’s first-class travel

GOP rejects Dems’ attempt to stop Pruitt’s first-class travel
© Greg Nash

House Republicans blocked an attempt by Democrats Wednesday to force Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEnvironmentalists renew bid to overturn EPA policy barring scientists from advisory panels Six states sue EPA over pesticide tied to brain damage Overnight Energy: Trump EPA looks to change air pollution permit process | GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule | Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules MORE to fly economy class.

Rep. Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorPelosi, Schumer invite US women's soccer team to Capitol Democrats grill Trump officials over fuel standard rollback Steyer group targeting 12 congressional Democrats over impeachment MORE (D-Fla.) forced a vote on the matter as a “motion to recommit” on a GOP-backed bill to delay air pollution standards for brick kilns and wood-fired heaters.

The action was destined to fail. But it nonetheless forced Republicans to go on the record on the issue, which has attracted widespread scorn from environmentalists, Democrats and even some Republicans.

Pruitt in recent weeks has been found to have flown first class or business class frequently on the taxpayer’s dime, costing thousands of dollars.

“There’s no adequate justification for this wasteful spending and abuse of power by Scott Pruitt,” Castor said on the House floor. “And if he enjoys flying first class and staying in luxury hotels, then he should pay for it himself and not ask taxpayers to foot the bill.” 

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Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusIllinois House Republicans call on Trump to not commute Blagojevich's sentence Overnight Energy: Fight over fuel standards intensifies | Democrats grill Trump officials over rule rollback | California official blasts EPA chief over broken talks | Former EPA official says Wheeler lied to Congress California official blasts EPA head over car standard negotiations MORE (R-Ill.), chairman of Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Environment, criticized the move as a distraction from the policy at hand.

“I don’t think we build and use bricks to make our airplanes, and I don’t think we power our planes with wood heaters,” he responded on the floor. “It’s just purely politics, and it’s not surprising. Why? Democrats want to distort us from the economic success of the Republican agenda.”

Castor's amendment failed 186-227, while the underlying bill passed 234-180.

Pruitt is just one of many Trump Cabinet officials under scrutiny for travel costs, including Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinPress: Acosta, latest to walk the plank Senior Trump administration official to leave post next week Trump sent policy pitch from Mar-a-Lago member to VA secretary: report MORE, Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeNew policy at Interior's in-house watchdog clamps down on interactions with press Overnight Energy: EPA proposes scrapping limits on coal plant waste | Appointee overseeing federal lands once advocated selling them | EPA lifts Obama-era block on controversial mine Latest appointee overseeing federal public lands once advocated to sell them MORE and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week Democrats push judge for quick action on Trump tax returns lawsuit Five key players in Trump's trade battles MORE. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PricePress: Acosta, latest to walk the plank 'I alone can fix it,' Trump said, but has he? Chaotic Trump transition leaks: Debates must tackle how Democrats will govern differently MORE resigned last year amid bipartisan criticism of his travel expenses.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox declined to comment on Castor’s action except to refer to Pruitt’s appearance last week on “The Takeout,” a podcast hosted by CBS News’s Major Garrett.

Pruitt has repeatedly stated that his first-class flights came about due to assessments by his security detail, and he promised to fly coach in the future as often as his detail feels he could while remaining safe, including on his next flight.

“The quantity and type of threats that I face are unprecedented,” he said. “They wanted me on a position on the plane to be able to exit expeditiously if an incident arose, and that’s why the change arose.”

“I’ve instructed those same individuals to accommodate those security threats in alternate ways up to and including flying coach, going forward.”

Henry Barnet, director of the agency's Office of Criminal Enforcement, told Politico that the incidents that caused Pruitt to fly first class were mostly confrontations with angry passengers in airports and on airplanes, including one time that a passenger yelled, “Scott Pruitt, you’re f---ing up the environment!”