Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s nonstop scandals are finally beginning to test the patience of some of his staunchest political allies.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has been one of Pruitt’s biggest patrons. Pruitt previously served as Oklahoma’s attorney general, and the two have known each other a long time. One of Inhofe’s former aides, Andrew Wheeler, is now Pruitt’s second-in-command at the EPA.
But on Wednesday, in a conversation about Pruitt with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, Inhofe said, “I think something needs to happen to change that, and one of those alternatives is for him to leave that job.”
“I would say this that there’s a guy behind him, Andrew Wheeler, who’s really qualified too, so that might be a good swap,” Inhofe added.
Ingraham also called on Pruitt to resign following reports that the administrator had pressed lobbyists and donors to get a job for his wife, the latest in a long, long list of alleged transgressions.
The day before, a right-wing dark money group called the American Future Fund released a withering attack ad calling on President Trump to fire Pruitt. The group is a 501(c)(4) organization from West Des Moines, Iowa.
“Scott Pruitt is a swamp monster,” says the narrator. “Mr. President, you know what to do.”
It was followed by an editorial in the National Review, the same conservative publication that published a fawning cover story on Pruitt last December, calling for him to step down.
Senator Kennedy (R-LA) to EPA Administrator Pruitt (1/2): "The appearance of impropriety matters. The waste of taxpayer money matters. If you can’t use good judgement and put taxpayers first it’s time to find another line of work." pic.twitter.com/IWmieJmy9u— Alan He (@alanhe) June 7, 2018
In particular, Iowa Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have turned against Pruitt for his stance on biofuels regulations. Pruitt’s EPA granted 25 refiners waivers to annual requirements to mix in biofuels on the grounds that the regulation causes these refiners economic hardship.
The main renewable fuel in the United States is ethanol made from corn, and Iowa is the largest producer in the country. It accounts for 3.5 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, totaling $4.6 billion, and employs 43,000 people. Letting refineries off the hook for adding in ethanol shrinks the market for Iowa’s corn-based fuel.
Grassley told reporters last month on a conference call that the EPA needs to take a different approach “or I’m going to be calling for Pruitt to resign because I’m done playing around with this.”
But this week’s wave of condemnations from the right were prompted by a report in the Washington Post that Pruitt enlisted an aide, Samantha Dravis, to reach out to Republican donors to find a job for his wife, Marlyn Pruitt.
Dravis resigned earlier this year, and the EPA’s inspector general is investigating allegations that she didn’t show up to work for months.
Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society, passed on Marlyn Pruitt’s résumé to the Judicial Crisis Network, where the former school nurse worked until earlier this year.
Asking political donors to find jobs for family members is a potential breach of ethics rules, and, of course, Democratic lawmakers were eager to pounce.
This looks like Scott Pruitt's worst ethics scandal yet.— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) June 13, 2018
He pressured an EPA employee to conduct a job search for his wife among lobbyists, wealthy GOP donors, and special interest groups.
Pruitt's actions here were certainly illegal, and astonishingly corrupt even for him. 1/ https://t.co/G6g98lBw9k
However, Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan have chosen to feign ignorance about Pruitt:
Reporter: Are you confident in EPA Admin. Pruitt?— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 14, 2018
Speaker Ryan: "Frankly I haven't paid that close attention to it ... I don't know enough about what Pruitt has or has not done to give you a good comment." pic.twitter.com/sd2DJMwQD8
And White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders in the Thursday press briefing offered few clues to Pruitt’s standing, only saying, “Certainly we have some areas of concern in some of these allegations.”
Sanders on the White House's position on ever-mounting Scott Pruitt scandals: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ pic.twitter.com/GvlHGFMkEt— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 14, 2018
Pruitt’s fate still lies with President Trump, and despite the scandals, he’s still standing by Pruitt. The administrator has helped deliver some of Trump’s biggest policy wins to date and is continuing to roll back environmental regulations. It seems the two remain loyal to each other.
Even as Pruitt’s scandal du jour makes headlines, it’s important to remember that he’s making major policy changes at the EPA that could impact the health of millions of Americans.