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 PruittOvernight Energy: EPA to make formal decision on regulating drinking water contaminant | Utility to close coal plant despite Trump plea | Greens say climate is high on 2020 voters’ minds EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year Court tosses challenge to EPA's exclusion of certain scientists from advisory boards 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 TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job 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 WaldenDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Former Ryan aide moves to K street Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Lawmakers pay tribute to John Dingell's legacy on health care | White House denies officials are sabotaging ObamaCare | FDA wants meeting with Juul, Altria execs on youth vaping 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 ShimkusDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants Lawmakers beat lobbyists at charity hockey game Ocasio-Cortez unveils Green New Deal climate resolution 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 ErnstPush for paid family leave heats up ahead of 2020 Ivanka Trump to meet with GOP senators to discuss paid family leave legislation On The Money: Negotiators aiming to reach deal Monday night | Why border talks stalled | Treasury calls reports on dip in tax refunds 'misleading' | Cuomo, Trump to discuss SALT deduction cap 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 SimpsonPress: Democrats dare to think big Dem chairwoman seeks watchdog probe of Park Service’s shutdown operations House votes on 10th bill to reopen government 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 InhofeOn The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration Trump to sign border deal, declare national emergency Foreign Affairs chairman: US military intervention in Venezuela 'not an option' 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 BartonGOP trading fancy offices, nice views for life in minority Privacy legislation could provide common ground for the newly divided Congress Texas New Members 2019 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 WickerTrump signs executive order to boost AI technology Hillicon Valley: Feds looking into Bezos claims about National Enquirer | Amazon reconsidering New York City HQ2 move | Sprint sues AT&T over 5G marketing claims Senate to hold hearing on potential privacy bill 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 SchatzTrump defends using DOD funds on border wall: 'Some of the generals think that this is more important' Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Push for cosponsors for new 'Medicare for all' bill | Court lets Dems defend ObamaCare | Flu season not as severe as last year, CDC says Dems unveil bill to let VA doctors prescribe medical marijuana MORE (D-Hawaii).

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