WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt is about to take the long flight home to Oklahoma, and it will probably be in coach class.
The embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, known for his penchant for first-class travel, resigned on Thursday afternoon, after yet another day of unflattering headlines and revelations. The very latest, revealed shortly before his resignation was announced, had Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., wondering if Pruitt was using a so-called shell corporation to hide income earned by his wife, Marlyn.
Environmental groups cheered Pruitt’s resignation, which came in a letter to Trump, even though his successor, Andrew Wheeler, is an energy lobbyist who does not appear to believe that climate change is caused by human activity. Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, serenaded Pruitt by calling him “a disgrace.” Democrats in Congress met news of his departure with similar cheer. “Scott Pruitt was able to keep his position for so long — despite astonishing megalomania and unethical behavior — only because of Donald Trump’s historic embrace of corruption,” Beyer said in a statement.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called for an EPA administrator with a different approach to the job.
Just because Scott Pruitt resigned doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten about the taxpayer funds he’s misused or the damage he’s done to our environment. We must have someone running the EPA that will protect clean air and clean water.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 5, 2018
It wasn’t just that Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general, was a partisan who believed that the regulatory state had become too onerous for corporations. With a wide smirk across his face, Pruitt mirthfully trolled liberals with his invocations of “regulatory certainty” and “federalism,” delighting Trump as he rolled back or delayed dozens of regulations, including the 2015 Waters of the United States rule and the Clean Power Plan, key aspects of the environmental legacy of Barack Obama. And while he gladly took lunches and meetings with lobbyists from the chemical and energy industries, he almost never met with environmental groups or members of his own staff. That left career officials deeply demoralized.
“Morale is not good,” an EPA career official recently told reporters in a meeting. “It’s so low, you need a ladder to get out of the gutter.”
Trump’s upset, meanwhile, was becoming ever more evident, with reports earlier this week that he was finally tired of Pruitt. Indeed, the EPA administrator has spent more days trending on Twitter than Taylor Swift, a bad sign for someone who should be, by all measures, a fairly low-key bureaucrat. Pruitt instead became a symbol the worst ethical excesses of the Trump administration, with a list of ethical scandals so long, merely updating that ever-expanding roster was turning out to be a full time job. There was the $50/night apartment, the $43,000 private communications booth, the attempt to set his wife up as a fast-food restaurateur. There were employees sent out to search for moisturizing lotion and, perplexingly, used mattresses from the Trump International Hotel. Just this week, it was reported that Pruitt had directly campaigned for Trump to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions — with himself.
“He should have been fired long ago,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said Thursday in a statement. “Pruitt embodies everything about the ‘swamp’ that President Trump claimed he wanted to end — and the fact that Pruitt was kept around this long shows that the president never cared about rooting out corruption or self-dealing in Washington.”
It all started with the flights. Back in the fall of 2017, Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign because he’d spent some $500,000 on first-class and military travel. It soon came out that other Cabinet members, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — and Pruitt — engaged in similar behavior. They were dragged to the White House and told, in effect, to stop treating taxpayer funds like a personal slush-fund. Most appeared to have gotten the message.
Pruitt didn’t, apparently believing that his deregulatory blitzkrieg rendered him immune, even as more than a dozen investigations were opened into his behavior and some Republicans called on him to step down. Trump continued to defend him. In early June, at a function where the EPA administrator was present, Trump said: “[The] EPA is doing really, really well. Somebody has to say that about you a little bit, you know that, Scott.”
But many in the White House, reportedly including chief of staff John Kelly, kept pushing for Pruitt’s ouster. So did a number of high-profile personalities in conservative media, most notably Fox News primetime host Laura Ingraham. “Pruitt is the swamp. Drain it,” she tweeted on July 3. On July 5, she got her wish.
Pruitt is the swamp. Drain it.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) July 3, 2018
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