‘Embarrassment’ or ‘McCarthyism’: Key moments as Pruitt faces lawmakers
Scott Pruitt, the scandal-ridden administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, appeared on Capitol Hill on Thursday for back-to-back House committee hearings on his agency’s budget request.
But the only spending most lawmakers wanted to discuss were reports of Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded air travel, the sweetheart condo lease he secured from a lobbyist, and the numerous other allegations of misappropriating funds and unethical management that have tarred his tenure at the EPA.
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Here are key moments from the contentious hearings:
A defiant Pruitt says he has nothing to hide. The former Oklahoma attorney general argued his critics were simply attempting to undercut the “transformational change” he’s making at the agency on behalf of President Donald Trump. “Let’s have no illusions about what’s really going on here: Those who have attacked the EPA and attacked me are doing so because they want to attack and derail the president’s agenda and undermine this administration’s priorities,” he said at the outside of the day’s first hearing, in front of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. “I’m simply not going to let that happen.” Pruitt maintained had “nothing to hide,” and and suggested some of the reports regarding his behavior were inaccurate. “Facts are facts and fiction are fiction,” he said. “And a lie doesn’t become truth just because it appears on the front page of a newspaper.”
He also blamed EPA’s career staff for his $43,000 privacy booth. He said career employees signed off on the expensive soundproof phone booth installed his office — and maintained he would have refused it if he’d known about the cost. “I did have a phone call that came in of a sensitive nature and I did not have access to secure communication,” he said. “I gave direction to my staff to address that and out of that came a $43,000 expenditure that I did not approve.” The Government Accountability Office has said the agency violated spending laws by not informing Congress about the booth beforehand. To Pruitt’s critics, the booth has come a prominent symbol of his reputation for high-spending and extreme secrecy.
Democrats pounded him early and often. Those included top Energy and Commerce Democrat Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who said the scandals enveloping Pruitt are “an embarrassment to President Trump and distract from the EPA’s ability to effectively carry out the president’s mission. And if I were the president, I wouldn’t want your help. I’d get rid of you.”
Some Republicans also warned Pruitt he needs to answer questions. Environment subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said he considered much of the media narrative surrounding the EPA chief’s scandals to be “a distraction,” but the committee “cannot ignore” reports of Pruitt’s impropriety. “As public servants, our jobs are not based solely on the things we do, or the things we have done, but also on the way we conduct our business,” Shimkus said in his opening statement. “It is no secret that there have been many stories in the press about the management and operations of the agency and your dealings with potentially regulated sectors.” And full Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) expressed concerns that Pruitt’s progress on policy is being “undercut” by the allegations. “These issues are too persistent to ignore,” said Walden, a member of House Republican leadership.