Republican senator calls for face-to-face with EPA’s Pruitt

Republican senator calls for face-to-face with EPA’s Pruitt
© Greg Nash

Republican senators are taking a harder look at Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittWe're not effectively protecting Americans from measles, air pollution or food poisoning The problem for Trump appointees Dems probing whether EPA officials violated ethics rules MORE, President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report MORE’s embattled head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), after a prominent conservative called for his ouster last week amid new allegations of ethical misconduct.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain Inhofe Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Overnight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal MORE (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and longtime Pruitt backer, wants to meet with the EPA chief Tuesday to discuss the latest allegations.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I’ve made a request to sit down with him on Tuesday,” Inhofe told The Hill.

Inhofe said he thinks that some of the allegations that have been raised against Pruitt are false, but other charges have raised concerns.

“I just want to know what’s going on,” he said. “I want to get to the bottom of it.”

Inhofe on Monday evening said he had yet to nail down the precise timing but expressed confidence it would happen soon.

“I’m going to have it this week,” he said, but declined to provide more detail. 

Republican senators say Pruitt’s future will hinge on Inhofe’s continued support.

“If Jim came out against him that would be significant. I think people will want to see what Inhofe says,” said a senior Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss internal conference discussions.

Inhofe is closely aligned with Pruitt’s policy views and supports his aggressive effort to roll back environmental regulations.

The senior senator from Oklahoma once flew Pruitt around the state in his personal plane when Pruitt was campaigning for office early in his career.

“I flew him in my airplane around the state to primarily the western part of Oklahoma, where my numbers have always been pretty good. They didn’t know who he was. That was a long time ago,” Inhofe recalled in an interview.

But there’s growing concern among GOP lawmakers that Pruitt is becoming a political liability as allegations of questionable ethical decisions pile up.

One Pruitt aide, Millan Hupp, said in testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that she helped him look for housing and obtain a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

Pruitt has also come under fire for renting a room from the wife of an energy lobbyist, spending more than $100,000 on first-class flights last year and requesting around-the-clock security protection at a cost of more than $3 million to taxpayers.

Questions have also been raised about Pruitt using his aides to help his wife seek employment in Washington, D.C.

“Every day something new comes out,” Inhofe said. “I want to find out everything from the bed to the wife’s job and all these things … because he happens to be an old, old friend of mine.”

The uproar over Pruitt seemed to die down in recent weeks until conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham rekindled it last week, tweeting that Pruitt’s “bad judgment” is hurting the president and that he’s “gotta go.”

A second Republican senator said Ingraham’s pointed call for Pruitt’s resignation can’t be ignored.

“I thought it had subsided, but it looks like it’s coming back,” said the lawmaker, who declined to comment publicly on Pruitt’s future. “It’s flared back up.”

Pruitt has survived controversy after controversy because of Trump, who has stuck with his embattled administrator.

But there have been other signs of growing unease on the right.

The National Review argued in a recent editorial that Pruitt has become too tarnished to effectively advocate for deregulation.

Inhofe told reporters in Oklahoma on Friday that Pruitt may have to step down if he continues to be dogged by scandals.

“I’m going to have a personal advice session with him, and see what options are out there. Again, I’ve always been supportive of him. But he can’t continue with something new coming out every day.”

Inhofe told Ingraham in an interview last week that the No. 2-ranking official at the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, who is a former Inhofe aide, is “really qualified.”

“So that might be a good swap,” he said.

GOP senators privately acknowledge that Pruitt is becoming a liability for the party in an election year.

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay Ernst Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Abrams: Schumer has been 'relentless but thoughtful' about Senate bid MORE (R-Iowa), who is running to become the first woman to serve in the elected Senate Republican leadership since 2010, has called Pruitt “about as swampy as you can get.”

She and Pruitt are at odds over the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is a big help to Iowa’s corn farmers who help produce ethanol.

The EPA under Pruitt has granted hardship waivers to large oil refineries to help them circumvent biofuels requirements.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTen post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators On The Money: Conservatives rally behind Moore for Fed | White House interviewing other candidates | Trump, Dems spar on Tax Day | Budget watchdogs bemoan 'debt denialism' GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents MORE (R), Iowa’s senior senator, threatened last month to call for Pruitt’s resignation if he didn’t stop handing out exemptions to the ethanol mandate.

But GOP senators say they are reluctant to push for Pruitt’s resignation because he has a close relationship with Trump and they fear getting on the president’s bad side.

They also say it would be very difficult to confirm a replacement who would try to unwind EPA regulations, which many Republican lawmakers oppose, with the same zeal as Pruitt.

A third Republican senator said if Pruitt stepped down, his successor would have to make promises to Democrats, and maybe a few environmentally minded Republicans, to secure the 50 votes need for confirmation.

“We couldn’t get someone in who would be as strong on regulations. That person would have to make a lot of promises to get through,” said the source.

Republicans have a narrow 51-49 seat majority, but with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Democrats need a 'celebrity' candidate — and it's not Biden or Sanders Juan Williams: The high price of working for Trump MORE (R-Ariz.) at home battling cancer, they effectively control only 50 seats.