Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt pushed back against Democratic lawmakers’ questioning during the first of two Capitol Hill hearings, calling accusations against him “half-truths” meant to stymie President Donald Trump’s agenda.
Pruitt’s opening remarks focused on policy, but Democrats wasted no time diving into accusations against the administrator. Pruitt, however, came prepared for a grilling, and had rebuttals for Democrats’ intense questioning.
“Let’s have no illusions as to what’s going on here,” Pruitt said in a hearing before House lawmakers on Thursday morning. “Those who have attacked EPA and me are doing so because they want to derail the President’s agenda and priorities.”
“I am simply not going to let that happen,” Pruitt said.
Democrats asked Pruitt numerous questions on accusations of overspending and ethical lapses, and also pressed the administrator on policies they oppose, including a recent data transparency proposal.
Pruitt rejected accusations against him, however, he did admit “there’s been a learning process” during his first year in office. Pruitt also took responsibility for the scandals distracting from the Trump administration’s agenda.
“A lie doesn’t become truth just because it appears on the front page of a newspaper,” Pruitt told lawmakers during the hearing.
Republicans were supportive of Pruitt. Ohio Rep. Bill Johnson, a Republican, lamented the hearing had “turned into a personal attack hearing,” instead of a hearing on EPA’s budget, which is what it was supposed to be about.
“If you can’t debate the policies in Washington you attack the personality, and that’s what is happening to you,” Texas Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican, said in Pruitt’s defense.
GOP lawmakers lauded Pruitt’s repeal of Obama-era regulations, from the Clean Power Plan to the “waters of the United States” rule. Republicans criticized their Democratic colleagues for not focusing about policy or the budget.
“It has become a political bloodsport to destroy anyone associated with the Trump administration,” said GOP Rep. Greg Harper of Mississippi.
Pruitt’s come under fire for first-class flights, his living arrangements, allegedly removing staffers who disagreed with him and overspending on security and office furniture.
Democrats focused on those allegations and attacked Pruitt for policy decisions he’s made, claiming they favor “polluters.”
“Clean air to breathe and clean water to drink is not a privilege for the rich, it is a right for everyone,” California Rep. Raul Ruiz, a Democrat, told Pruitt in the hearing. New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat, called on Trump to remove Pruitt during the hearing.
“I’m not doing this to hassle you,” Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado said after questioning Pruitt on alleged ethical lapses. California Rep. Tony Cardenas also went through accusations against Pruitt, including his renting a room for $50 a night in a condo owned by the wife of a D.C. lobbyist.
Cardenas, a Democrat, hammered Pruitt on the reported decreased in EPA enforcement actions, as reported by The New York Times in 2017. Many of the enforcement actions claimed by Pruitt were in fact assessed during the Obama administration, Cardenas said.
Oregon Rep. Greg Walden brought up accusations against Pruitt and subsequent congressional and EPA investigations. Walden, a Republican, only brought them up in order to ask Pruitt if he would provide investigators all the documents they request.
However, Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan Costello, a Republican, did grill Pruitt on alleged overspending and sidelining of staffers critical of spending decisions. Costello also criticized Pruitt’s use of security, to which Pruitt responded by reading some of the threats individuals have made against him and his family.
New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance also grilled Pruitt on overspending, focusing on Pruitt’s $43,000 secure phone booth. Pruitt said career officials took the lead on the costly project, but Lance, a Republican, still thought the booth was “inappropriate.”
Pruitt is set to face a second House committee Thursday afternoon, where he can expect more hours of grilling from Democratic lawmakers.