Anxiety about EPA administrator under fire, but little action on Capitol Hill
Posted June 7, 2018 6:07 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — Republican patience is waning when it comes to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.
GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill are openly opining on Pruitt's character, ethics and judgment even as they say they are largely happy with the policy decisions the EPA administrator is making at the agency.
All of the tension is leading to questions about how long it will be tenable for Pruitt to stay in the job.
"That's the question. That's the question. I think the President will make that decision," West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said.
Members say that the problem for Pruitt isn't one incident, but the wide array of allegations that have stacked up against him, with about one dozen inquiries into his actions as EPA administrator. On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Pruitt had his security detail drive him around Washington looking for his favorite lotion and, on occasion, pick up his dry cleaning. The Government Accountability Office has found he violated the law by installing a $43,000 soundproof booth in his office and there have been reports that Pruitt used his office to inquire about a Chick-fil-A business opportunity for his wife among other things.
Sen. Dick Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, described it as "a lot of cuts."
"It's not helpful for one after another after another of these issues to come up so I don't know where it is going," said Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.
The reviews, audits and investigations into Pruitt's actions at the agency include his unprecedented 24/7 security detail, first-class airplane tickets and condo rental from a lobbyist couple.
CNN has reached out to the EPA for comment on the criticism from Republicans' and has not yet received a response.
The level of outrage about Pruitt -- even in a Republican Party where members are skittish about crossing their President -- is palpable. Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, told CNN Wednesday that "behavior wise," Pruitt was "acting like a moron."
"This behavior has hurt and is hurting the President, which hurts the country," Kennedy said. "When you are in a position of authority as he is, enormous power of being the administrator of the EPA, you cannot have appearances of impropriety and the hits just keep on coming."
Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, tagged Pruitt as "about as swampy as you get" during a Platts Energy event this week.
Even in the House, Pruitt has become a distraction for those who have jurisdiction over the EPA. Rep. John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois who has oversight authority over the EPA on his subcommittee, told CNN Thursday that that he's not as concerned as he is frustrated.
"Come on, help us out here. Don't do stupid things," Shimkus said about Pruitt's recent behavior. "Character matters. Stewardship matters."
But, Shimkus says an obstacle for Republicans to act or talk to the administration is the fear that the administration may not be able to get another EPA administrator confirmed if Pruitt was fired. The margin in the Senate is narrow and the body already has a packed schedule for the summer that includes a long list of nominees.
"We run into the concern of we need people at the head of agencies especially at one like the EPA where it's kind of a sea change from the last administration," Shimkus said. "Having someone there is important. Because of what is occurring in the personal side, if that runs him out of the position, then we don't have anybody. Then you're kind of stagnant," Shimkus said.
There is also the other factor: Trump.
The President praised Pruitt Wednesday while at FEMA headquarters and most recently appears pleased with the job Pruitt is doing.
"Administrator Scott Pruitt. Thank you, Scott, very much. EPA is doing really really well. And you know, somebody has to say that about you a little bit -- you know that Scott," Trump said Wednesday.
There are still plenty of Republicans who say they aren't interested in nitpicking Pruitt. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi who is up for re-election, said he didn't have any concerns. Asked directly about the Chick-fil-A incident and a report that Pruitt inquired about getting a mattress from the Trump Hotel, Wicker categorized the alleged infractions as "small potatoes."
John Barrasso, a Republican on the Senate's Energy Committee, told CNN "we're continuing to have oversight, continuing to ask questions, continuing to wait for the full, White House formal review."
Capito, another member of the Energy Committee, however, warned "honestly, I think it has an eroding effect of his support overall."