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 PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas 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 TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her 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 WaldenHouse GOP blocks Trump-supported drug pricing provision from spending bill GOP turns its fire on Google Hillicon Valley: Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias | DOJ convenes meeting on bias claims | Rubio clashes with Alex Jones | DHS chief urges lawmakers to pass cyber bill | Sanders bill takes aim at Amazon 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 ShimkusRepublicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers New EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt Unending Pruitt controversies leave Republicans frustrated 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 ErnstGOP senator divorcing from husband GOP senators introduce bill to preserve ObamaCare's pre-existing conditions protections Pence: Trump’s national security will be as 'dominant' in space as it is on Earth 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 SimpsonOvernight Energy: Trump reportedly set to weaken methane rule | Exxon appeals climate case to Supreme Court | California commits to 100 percent clean energy | Tribes sue over Keystone XL pipeline Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog to probe Superfund panel | Zinke opens more wildlife refuges to hunting | House to vote on energy spending bill next week GOP shrugs off Trump shutdown threat 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 InhofePentagon releases report on sexual assault risk Trump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke 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 BartonConservatives blame McCarthy for Twitter getting before favorable committee Worst-case scenario for House GOP is 70-seat wipeout Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 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 WickerGoogle says it continues to allow apps to access Gmail user data Trump cancels Mississippi rally due to hurricane Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke 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 SchatzOvernight Energy: Warren bill would force companies to disclose climate impacts | Green group backs Gillum in Florida gov race | Feds to open refuge near former nuke site Warren wants companies to disclose more about climate change impacts Congress just failed our nation’s veterans when it comes to medical marijuana MORE (D-Hawaii).

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