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 PruittEPA looks to other statutes to expand scope of coming 'secret science' rule EPA ordered to reconsider New York efforts to tame downwind pollution OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic 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 TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 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: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video Top House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing Pelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive 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 ShimkusBottom line Bottom Line Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic 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 ErnstIowa Senate candidate raises 2K after dog goes viral Obama announces first wave of 2020 endorsements On The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP 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 SimpsonDuring a time of uncertainty, Great American Outdoors Act deserves our support Dentists want coronavirus testing kits before reopening MLB, Congress play hardball in fight over minor leagues 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 InhofeSenate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection 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 BartonBottom line Ex-Tea Party lawmakers turn heads on K Street Longtime GOP aide to launch lobbying shop 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 WickerThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: INOVIO R&D Chief Kate Broderick 'completely confident' world will develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine; GOP boxed in on virus negotiations Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers zero in on Twitter after massive hack | US, UK, Canada allege Russian hackers targeted COVID-19 vaccine researchers | Top EU court rules data transfer deal with the US is illegal Lawmakers zero in on Twitter following massive hack 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 Defense: House passes defense bill that Trump threatened to veto | Esper voices concerns about officers wearing military garb Senate rejects broad restrictions on transfers of military-grade equipment to police Hillicon Valley: Russian hackers return to spotlight with vaccine research attack | Twitter says 130 accounts targeted in this week's cyberattack | Four fired, dozens suspended in CBP probe into racist, sexist Facebook groups MORE (D-Hawaii).

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