By Michael Bastasch
Conservative allies have come to the aid of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt as lawmakers, environmental activists and pundits call for his resignation.
Calls for Pruitt’s resignation have only gotten more shrill in the wake of news stories on the former Oklahoma attorney general’s renting of a room in a condo co-owned by a D.C. lobbyist, giving staffers a pay raise over White House objections and first-class air travel. Many Democratic lawmakers, and at least two GOP House members, have called for Pruitt to be fired or resign.
Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel called the wave of anti-Pruitt stories “absurd,” pointing out that Obama EPA officials spent more on travel and that agency ethics officials approved of the administrator’s temporary living arrangement in the condo.
This Pruitt flap is absurd. Obama EPA officials spent as much or more on travel. And career EPA ethics officials say he paid "reasonable market value" for the condo, and leasor had no business in front of EPA. The press might at least try to pretend it didn't have two standards.
— Kimberley Strassel (@KimStrassel) April 3, 2018
And for the record, I acknowledge Pruitt has also tallied some domestic security costs. But if you were facing daily death threats, your security detail might also think it best that you fly first class. No?
— Kimberley Strassel (@KimStrassel) April 4, 2018
Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, also came to Pruitt’s defense in an op-ed published Wednesday. Hemingway argued the “coordinated attempt to oust” Pruitt is about getting rid of President Donald Trump’s most effective agency head.
“For many people on the left, EPA regulations touch on quasi-religious views,” Hemingway wrote. “They recognize that he’s not just a problem, but a big problem. That’s why we’re witnessing the coordinated hits on him.”
“If Trump were to fulfill the Resistance’s desire to oust Pruitt, it would be against his own political interest. His instincts about that tend to be pretty sharp, so don’t be surprised if Pruitt continues to serve and continues to anger the media and other Democrats and establishment figures,” Hemingway wrote.
Pruitt came under fire earlier this year for spending more than $100,000 on first class airline travel, which the EPA said were due to security concerns. The administrator also took fire for a costly $120,000 trip to Italy for the G7 summit.
Things cascaded in recent days as a slew of stories came out about Pruitt’s living arrangements and use of a provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act to give political staffers raises over White House objections.
Pruitt’s renting a room in a condo co-owned by the wife of a D.C. lobbyist with clients in the energy industry raised eyebrows. Pruitt rented the condo for $50 a night, but only paid for the time he was actually there. Pruitt only lived there a short while and moved to new digs last summer.
EPA ethics officials signed off on the agreement and told reporters it didn’t constitute as a gift under federal law, but environmental activists say the room rental was well-below “fair market value.” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman said the room rental constituted a bribe.
Hemingway, however, argued the media was blowing Pruitt’s rental agreement out of proportion as part of a campaign to remove him from office.
“He was approved for the room by an 18-year career ethics person at EPA, but liberal Pruitt opponents are ‘concerned,’” Hemingway wrote.
“The general rental space also was used by three members of Congress for fundraising on days Pruitt was in town. He wasn’t invited to the events, didn’t attend them, and even if he had no ethics laws would have been violated, but liberal Pruitt opponents are ‘concerned,’” she wrote.
So far, Trump has stuck by Pruitt, even calling him Monday to say “we have your back.” White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called Pruitt on Tuesday to reiterate Trump’s message. But White House staffers seem lined up against Pruitt.
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