Far right, libertarian-leaning Republicans rush to defend Scott Pruitt

Congressional GOP mostly silent on EPA administrator's scandals.

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) embraces Scott Pruitt at the start of a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on January 18, 2017. CREDIT: ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) embraces Scott Pruitt at the start of a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on January 18, 2017. CREDIT: ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images

As head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt has exceeded the expectations of far right and libertarian-leaning Republicans. In an expression of gratitude, these individuals and groups are waging a campaign to convince President Trump to not fire Pruitt, who is mired in scandal and controversy and is fighting to keep his job.

Pruitt has been under investigation almost since the day he was sworn in as the nation’s top environmental official. The latest controversies, surrounding his rental of a luxury Capitol Hill apartment — for below-market value — linked to an energy industry lobbyist include the granting of huge salaries to close aides, and the re-assignment of EPA employees who questioned his spending. These scandals have only intensified the scrutiny,  an many Democrats — and a few Republicans — have now called for Pruitt to resign or for Trump to fire the EPA administrator.

But on Friday morning President Trump took to twitter to criticize the “fake news media” and reiterate his support for Pruitt. Pruitt is “doing a great job” and is “TOTALLY under siege” Trump tweeted. “Do people really believe this stuff? SO much of the media is dishonest and corrupt!”

Aside from the president, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is the most prominent official to come out in support of Pruitt. Without alluding to any of the controversies surrounding Pruitt, Inhofe, the Senate’s most notorious climate denier, said: “Since being sworn in, Administrator Pruitt has been instrumental in carrying out President Trump’s deregulatory agenda at the EPA.”


There has been speculation that Pruitt will seek Inhofe’s Senate seat if the 83-year-old decides not to seek reelection in 2020.

Other congressional Republicans, right-wing groups, and pundits have also rallied to Pruitt’s side in recent days. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has publicly backed him, as have Republican governors Matt Bevin (KY), Phil Bryant (MS), and Pete Ricketts (NE).  Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh delivered an on-air defense of Pruitt, and groups such as Koch-funded FreedomWorks and the Federalist Society also expressed their support.

In the years after President Nixon created the EPA in 1970, right-wing groups began campaigns to rein in the agency. Many of Pruitt’s staunchest defenders trace their lineage to groups formed in the 1970s that opposed federal intervention in protecting the environment.

For the most part, though, Republicans have kept quiet about Pruitt’s status. As of Friday morning, according to E&E News, 33 of the 36 Republicans in the House Climate Solutions Caucus had refused to criticize Pruitt or call for his resignation.


GOP members are hoping the controversies surrounding Pruitt die down. But chances that the scandals plaguing the EPA administrator will blow over are slim.

Yet, as the EPA continues to weather the storm, Pruitt’s staunchest supporters, like Trump, have begun fighting back against the ever-unfolding media coverage of the EPA head’s ethics scandals.

Kentucky governor Bevin used a expression made famous by Spiro Agnew, President Nixon’s disgraced vice president who was forced to resign for alleged corruption. Bevin tweeted that Pruitt should “ignore the nattering nabobs of negativism,” referring to media coverage of all the controversies surrounding the EPA chief.

Meanwhile, an official with the Heritage Foundation, a far right mainstay in Washington, blamed Pruitt’s troubles on the “left” in a commentary published April 4. The official, Genevieve Wood, a senior communications adviser for the think tank, resorted to using the tired tactic of highlighting Al Gore and Hollywood to discredit people opposed to dismantling laws and rules that were put into place to protect the environment and public health.


Wood said Pruitt is being punished because “he doesn’t believe we should be creating useless regulations that eliminate jobs and make families pay more for energy just so Al Gore and most of Hollywood can feel good about themselves.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who trends toward the libertarian wing of the Republican Party on foreign policy and privacy issues, described Pruitt as “likely the bravest and most conservative member of Trump’s cabinet.” In a tweet, Paul said Pruitt is still needed to “drain the regulatory swamp.” Libertarians have long pushed for limiting the federal government’s role in protecting the environment.

In another tweet, Cruz asked why “Obama and his media cronies want so badly to drive [Scott Pruitt] out of office?” Cruz and his wife were the targets of vicious attacks from Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. Perhaps owing to the attacks by Trump, Cruz opined that the president “is too cagey to be duped and bullied by the Obama groupies.”

Meanwhile, in an opinion piece for Fox News on Thursday, Steve Milloy, the former tobacco industry spin master and coal executive, wrote that before taking over as administrator “Pruitt knew well EPA’s proclivity toward rogue behavior.”

Earlier in his career, Milloy ran a website that was dedicated to debunking what he alleged to be false claims regarding passive smoking, global warming, and DDT.

Pruitt’s detractors have emphasized that the former Oklahoma attorney general has been waging a rogue campaign against environmental law since he became head of the EPA in February 2017.

Earlier this week, for example, news came out that Pruitt went rogue by bypassing the White House to approve significant pay increases for two of his closest aides. When asked by Fox News why he went around Trump to give the pay raises, Pruitt denied he approved the salary increases. “I did not,” he said. “My staff did. And I found out about that yesterday and I changed it.”

The Heartland Institute — always viewed as a fringe group for its promotion of climate denial and other discredited theories — gained prominence under Trump and is now too coming to Pruitt’s defense. “Funny what happens when a Republican wins the White House,” the Heartland Institute’s Julie Kelly wrote in a piece published Tuesday. “The media mob suddenly develops an interest in transparency and fiscal responsibility.”

Myron Ebell, a top official with the Competitive Enterprise Institute who headed Trump’s EPA transition team, also is defending Pruitt as the controversies mount. “We’re getting the word out that Administrator Pruitt is doing a good job in implementing the president’s agenda and Administrator Pruitt is a key part of that agenda,” Ebell told E&E News in article published Tuesday.

The scope of alleged ethics violations and missteps by Pruitt is staggering, even in Washington, a town accustomed to politicians and lobbyists seeking to enrich themselves at taxpayer expense and pushing their political agenda by any means necessary.

As of Friday morning, Pruitt was still employed by the Trump administration. “Pruitt could not survive what’s come out about him at this point in any traditional presidency,” the Washington Post explained Friday.