Unending Pruitt controversies leave Republicans frustrated

Unending Pruitt controversies leave Republicans frustrated
© Greg Nash

The unending controversies surrounding Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittWhat has EPA been hiding about formaldehyde? Overnight Energy: Trump officials suspend oil, gas production on Utah plots after lawsuit | California bucks Trump on lightbulb rollback | Scientists join Dems in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Scientists join Democrats in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule MORE are exhausting Republican lawmakers, who are calling on the administrator to get a handle on the scandals.

While many GOP lawmakers have maintained public support for President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE’s embattled EPA chief, a number of Republicans in the House and Senate are letting their criticisms ring out.

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“The constant drip needs to stop so that the agency can get its footing,” Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: Twitter shares more details on political ad rules | Supreme Court takes up Google-Oracle fight | Pentagon chief defends Microsoft cloud contract House, Senate announce agreement on anti-robocall bill House panel advances flavored e-cigarette ban MORE (R-Ore.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Wednesday.

“These other things are an enormous distraction from the important work the agency needs to do, and at some point [the EPA has] got to get its house in order.”

Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusShimkus announces he will stick with plan to retire after reconsidering Shimkus says he's reconsidering retirement Shimkus says he's been asked to reconsider retirement MORE (R-Ill.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee, said “questionable” decisions by Pruitt are distracting from the administration’s messaging on taxes and deregulation.

“You can’t get that through with all of those other stories,” Shimkus said. “It’s frustrating … I’d rather be talking about jobs and the economy than these personal decisions that have been made that are questionable.”

Pruitt faced fresh scrutiny this week amid reports that he used his position to try to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise and had an aide do personal tasks for him, such as trying to buy him a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel and spending months researching apartments for him.

The aide, Millan Hupp, resigned Wednesday after those reports. Sarah Greenwalt, another close aide to Pruitt who came with him to the EPA from Oklahoma, also resigned.

The latest controversies follow months of scandals surrounding Pruitt, including that he gave Hupp and Greenwalt raises after the White House refused to allow it, rented a condo from the wife of an energy lobbyist for just $50 for each night he stayed there and spent $3.5 million in one year on a security detail.

Trump has stood by his embattled EPA head, including him among Cabinet members whom he lauded during a meeting at the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday. Under Pruitt, Trump said, the agency is “doing really, really well.”

But on Capitol Hill, tensions are at an all-time high, with GOP lawmakers at odds between the policy initiatives of their party championed by Pruitt and the scandals they find increasingly hard to explain away.

Some aren’t holding back.

“I think he’s acting like a moron,” Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), who’s been an outspoken critic of Pruitt over his scandals, told reporters Wednesday.

“I’m astounded at some of the stuff I read,” Kennedy continued. While the senator said he supports Pruitt’s agenda, he added, “I’m not going to come down here, just because he happens to be a nominee of a president I support, or a nominee from my party, and try to defend the indefensible.”

For Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Turkish media paints White House visit as Erdoğan triumph over Trump Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House MORE (R-Iowa), anger at Pruitt over proposed changes to ethanol policies has boiled over into his spending and ethics scandals.

She said at a Tuesday event that Pruitt “is about as swampy as you get here in Washington, D.C. And if the president wants to drain the swamp, he needs to take a look at his own Cabinet,” The Washington Post reported.

Trump scuttled the proposed changes late Tuesday. Under the proposal, the EPA would have counted exported ethanol toward the federal biofuels mandate, effectively decreasing gasoline blending requirements.

Rep. Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonBipartisan group reveals agricultural worker immigration bill House passes Paycheck Fairness Act Press: Democrats dare to think big MORE (R-Idaho) said he’s getting tired of the repeated controversies.

“Those are things that Scott Pruitt’s going to have to answer for,” Simpson said of the Chick-fil-A and mattress developments. “I suspect the administration’s getting a little tired of hearing about it.”

Even Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families MORE (R), a fellow Oklahoman and longtime supporter of his state’s former attorney general, said he is finding the reports hard to stomach.

“The accusations are all troubling, all troubling. They are,” Inhofe said. “There are some problems there.”

Still, Pruitt has maintained a cadre of supporters on Capitol Hill.

“Those aren’t scandals,” said Rep. Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonLongtime GOP aide to launch lobbying shop Katie Hill resignation reignites push for federal 'revenge porn' law Shimkus says he's been asked to reconsider retirement MORE (R-Texas). “If he stole a mattress from the Trump Hotel, that’d be one thing. But trying to buy a mattress, that dog doesn’t bark. ... I think he’s doing a good job.”

“I’ve never seen such nit-picking,” added Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerMicrosoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Trump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Pay America's Coast Guard MORE (R-Miss.). “Look, Scott Pruitt is a target because he’s keeping President Trump’s campaign promises.”

Some Democrats, meanwhile, are reveling in the scandals — hoping that one will eventually be either the last straw that ousts him, or at least a continuous black eye for Republicans.

“It was difficult for the environmental community to illustrate to the general public how corrupt EPA policy has become. But now we have it in three dimensions, and about every six hours, a new example of it,” said Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzCongress should lift the ban on medical cannabis access for military veterans Booker introduces bill banning facial recognition tech in public housing Senate Democrat: Colleague was working on fantasy football trade instead of listening to Schumer MORE (D-Hawaii).

“Scott Pruitt is the gift that keeps on giving.”