Holiday Tussle: Who’s The Worst?

Posted May 25, 2018 8:27 p.m. EDT

The other day Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief and well-known candidate for Worst Person in Washington, tossed some reporters out of a public conference on water contamination.

Way to rehabilitate your image, Scott!

Pruitt has been in a long-running battle with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for the title of most terrible Trump minion. (Now, of course, we’ve also got John Bolton. But this is a holiday weekend, and I don’t want you to spend it contemplating nuclear warfare. Save that for the Fourth of July.)

Let’s see who’s currently in the lead. On her side, DeVos has been hard at work dismantling the special Department of Education team that investigates fraud by for-profit colleges. While the secretary is deeply into the idea of substituting private schools for public ones, she is deeply unenthusiastic about any quality control.

Some people feel DeVos is flat-out hostile to public schools. Obviously, a terrible and unfair charge. To prove she loves all education the same, DeVos made a major trip to New York City this month, where she visited … two yeshivas.

OK, this is a close competition. Feel free to argue about it during your Sunday barbecue.

About Pruitt’s tussle with the press: The AP reported EPA guards grabbed its reporter “by the shoulders and shoved her” out of the building. Later, the department apologized and let everyone back in the conference. But what do you think Pruitt was afraid of? That the media would find out he’s in favor of contaminated water? Or was he just been in a bad mood since he learned the government will no longer fly him first class?

Maybe he’s worried about those jokes that the new sinkhole discovered in the White House front lawn was actually an escape tunnel dug by Melania Trump. After all, the whole thing is sort of environmental.

Pruitt has a long and fabled history of trying to make taxpayers underwrite his fondness for first-class air travel. DeVos has never scored headlines on that front, perhaps because she has her own plane. And a father-in-law worth $5.1 billion.

She also has a brother, Erik Prince, who headed a private security firm blamed for shooting innocent civilians during its work for our government in Iraq. Prince is now a continuing player in the Russia probe. He met with a Russian oligarch — who naturally was a chum of Vladimir Putin — in the Seychelles in January 2017. Dark, suspicious minds think they may have been trying to establish a secret back channel for the new administration.

Don’t think Pruitt’s relatives can match this one.

Most of DeVos’ own personal bad behavior is on the policy front. “She guts the funding for after-school programs and uses it to fund private school vouchers,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, the top ranking Democrat on the committee that tracks education budget proposals.

During her trip to New York, DeVos gave a talk to a Catholic group, in which she seemed to suggest there was absolutely nothing whatsoever good to be said about public schools. The system, she assured Cardinal Timothy Dolan and other distinguished guests, was “failing too many students.” DeVos is an expert on the subject of failing too many students, having worked on a school reform program in Michigan that funneled a lot of state money into minimally supervised charter schools and made everything worse.

Issue-wise, DeVos might have the terribleness edge, although Pruitt has been working on a wide range of awful initiatives that could endanger everything from clean air to the sockeye salmon. However, he really does seem to spend most of his personal time building a mountain of stupid, seamy scandals.

For instance, during a recent appearance before a Senate committee, Pruitt was asked whether he had compensated an aide who worked off-hours looking for an apartment for her boss.

Since we have probably not seen a public official more desperate for freebies since the Teapot Dome scandal, I think you can guess that the answer was no.

“Then that’s a gift,” said Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico. “That’s in violation of federal law.”

The aide in question, Millan Hupp, picked out an apartment for Pruitt that was a huge bargain, its stellar qualities only slightly marred by the fact that it was owned by the spouse of a lobbyist who works on environmental issues.

So we’ve got a government worker doing private favors for her boss on her own time without compensation. And she gets him a condo that’s got more conflicts of interest than carpeting.

Two strikes for Pruitt.

There’s more! Hupp, 26, used to work as a political aide to Pruitt in Oklahoma. He brought her to Washington as the EPA’s scheduling director for $86,460 a year. Then he tried to give her a raise to $114,590, but couldn’t get the political go-ahead. This guy doesn’t even have the ethical sensitivity of the Trump White House.

Strike three!

Pruitt still wasn’t done. He got Hupp the higher salary by reappointing her under a provision of the Safe Water Act. No wonder he was so touchy about that anti-pollution conference.

Got to admit, he seems like the winner. Although it’s just for the weekend. God knows what DeVos has up her sleeve for June.

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