Democratic lawmakers and career officials at the EPA are grasping at straws to understand why President Donald Trump is sticking by one of his most effective lieutenants.
There is a virtual civil war happening inside the EPA as negative reports about agency head Scott Pruitt continue stacking up, agency insiders claim. Capitol Hill Democrats are also not sure how to proceed as Trump dismisses calls to fire the former Oklahoma attorney general.
Democratic California Rep. Ted Lieu, for instance, evolved from calling Pruitt a “deeply paranoid” and “unethical” person who must be fired to advocating Trump’s decision might be a good thing for Democrats in the long run.
“So now I’m thinking, please don’t fire @EPAScottPruitt,” Lieu wrote Saturday on Twitter shortly before the president reiterated his support for the beleaguered administrator. “He’s such a great symbol of the corruption and fraud, waste & abuse in your Administration.” More than 64 of his congressional colleagues disagree: they want him gone.
“Scott Pruitt’s unethical behavior, wasteful use of taxpayer money, and his efforts to undermine the EPA’s core mission to protect our environmental and public health demand an appropriate response: his resignation or his firing,” a coalition of 64 Democratic representatives wrote in a letter Friday to the president.
Their pleas come after a spate of reports painted Pruitt as a profligate spender of taxpayer money. The New York Times published a report Thursday, for instance, suggesting at least five EPA officials were placed on leave. The officials were reassigned or demoted after opposing spending requests on proposals such as a $100,000-a-month private jet membership and a bulletproof desk for the armed security officer always stationed inside the administrator’s office suite.
Pruitt also reportedly racked up nearly $90,000 in-flight expenses in June 2017. Pruitt traveled to Italy in June for meetings at the Vatican and to attend a summit with international energy ministers, CBS noted in a Feb. 13 report. The round-trip business-class flight cost at least $7,000, according to the report. Career bureaucrats at the EPA are joining in the barrage.
“It definitely seems like there’s some backstabbing going on,” one political appointee, who joined the agency in 2017 after Pruitt became administrator, told Politico Friday about the atmosphere at EPA headquarters. The person added: “Everybody is out for themselves right now.”
The atmosphere is like “a slow-motion train wreck at the moment,” one career official, who joined the EPA during the Obama-era, told Politico. “I was placing bets he’d (Pruitt) be out by the Fourth of July, but at this rate, he’ll be out by the end of the month,” another staffer said.
Other career officials are concerned about where the cascade of internal leaks are originating, according to Politico. The recent flurry of reports has relied mostly on anonymous sources. Some of them might be disgruntled former Trump administration officials, according to Inside EPA — an online subscription-based outlet that reports exclusively on EPA-related news.
Former White House official Rob Porter is reportedly one of the leakers, sources told Inside EPA Friday. The leaks were “tit for tat” for EPA senior counsel Samantha Dravis telling White House counsel Don McGahn Porter assaulted his two ex-wives, one source said.
Dravis caught Porter with former White House aide Hope Hicks and kicked him out of the apartment they shared, a second source told Inside EPA. Porter was forced to resign in February and may have leaked information Dravis told him about Pruitt. The reports are a snow-job designed to force the administrator out of the EPA, some suggest.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox dismissed such apocalyptic talk. “That’s false,” he told Politico. “It’s been a team effort from the beginning, and the hardworking staff at EPA is unified and committed to advancing President Trump’s agenda of regulatory certainty and environmental stewardship.”
But any bets Pruitt is out the door soon will have to be hedged. Trump does not appear willing to jettison his top EPA guy just yet. The president voiced his support for Pruitt during a Thursday White House press gaggle, telling reporters: “I think he’s done a fantastic job. I think he’s done an incredible job.” Trump doubled down on those comments in a tweet Saturday evening, telling his followers, “Scott is doing a great job!”
Perhaps one of the main reasons for the president’s loyalty is Pruitt’s effectiveness. He successfully nixed the Clean Power Plan, convinced Trump to leave the Paris climate agreement, and more recently, crafted new, less-burdensome, greenhouse gas emission and mileage standards for vehicles to be built in 2022 through 2025.
Pruitt has almost single-handedly decommissioned former President Barack Obama’s entire environmental agenda.
Pruitt moved to undo, delay or block, more than 30 environmental regulations during the first few months of his tenure, which began in January 2017. The rollbacks were more than any other administrator in the agency’s 47-year history over such a short period of time, according to a February 2017 report from The New York Times.
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