Pivoting away from White House immigration crisis, GOP lawmakers attack science agency

Four Republican senators are demanding an investigation into a program that educates meteorologists about climate change.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to the media at the United States Capitol Hill on Tuesday June 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to the media at the United States Capitol Hill on Tuesday June 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Despite raging controversies at the White House and an immigration crisis unfolding on the Southern border, conservative lawmakers have turned their attention elsewhere, targeting the National Science Foundation, which they accuse of “propagandizing” the issue of climate change.

In a joint letter sent Wednesday evening, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), James Lankford (R-OK), and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) asked NSF Inspector General Allison Lerner to scrutinize NSF grants, specifically the $4 million given to its Climate Matters program. The program, run by the New Jersey-based nonprofit Climate Central, works to provide information about climate change through its classes and webinars for television meteorologists.

NBC News reported Wednesday morning that local newscasters increasingly are a primary source for news on global warming. The report included references to the work of Climate Central, which receives funding from the NSF, and noted that the six-year-old Climate Matters program is a partnership involving NASA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and George Mason University.

The news report apparently drew the ire of Cruz and his co-signatories. In a letter later that day, they accused the NSF of having “issued several grants which seek to influence political and social debate rather than conduct scientific research.” The lawmakers were also critical of a separate grant which aimed to empower the engineering industry on social justice issues.


“Research designed to sway individuals of a various group, be they meteorologists or engineers, to a politically contentious viewpoint is not science — it is propagandizing.  Such efforts certainly fail to meet the standard of scientific research to which the NSF should be devoting federal taxpayer dollars,” the letter from the lawmakers reads.

The letter demanded an investigation to determine whether “wrongdoing, including violation of federal law” took place and said they should also be evaluated to assess whether they violate the Hatch Act, a law prohibiting executive branch employees from engaging in political activity.

In a statement sent to ThinkProgress, the NSF emphasized that it “is not a regulatory or policymaking organization” and serves a key role as the only federal agency supporting all science fields.

“Each proposal submitted to NSF — including those deemed “troubling” by Senators Paul, Cruz, Lankford and Inhofe — is reviewed by science and engineering experts well-versed in their particular discipline or field of expertise,” the statement reads.


The NSF also noted that Climate Central is “a non-profit production house that specializes in scientifically accurate broadcast communication about climate change” and that all NSF employees receive annual ethics training on a range of issues, including the Hatch Act.

The letter comes during a turbulent news cycle that has seen President Trump under fire for his immigration policies, including separating young children from their parents in Texas at the border. A handful of conservative lawmakers have offered critiques of the policy, but few have broken with the Trump administration on the issue completely.

That includes Cruz, who represents Texas, the state at the center of the crisis. He introduced emergency immigration legislation Monday to expedite asylum claims and keep immigrant children with their parents as they await word on whether they face deportation.

But Cruz also is finding time to target climate change initiatives, quietly singling out the NSF grants during what is seen as a national crisis. (He has made no comment about the risk environmental factors like flooding may pose to children in Texas detention centers.)

Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers more broadly continue to protect Scott Pruitt — currently the subject of more than a dozen federal investigations — even as Democrats repeatedly have called for the Environmental Protection Agency director’s resignation.


On Wednesday night, documents obtained by the Intercept under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) revealed that Pruitt spent some $4.6 million for upgraded security, including nearly $3,000 for “tactical pants” and “tactical polos.” That represents $1.1 million more in security spending than the sum disclosed by the EPA last month.

Trump has stood by Pruitt, as have the administrator’s closest allies, including Oklahoma Sen. Inhofe, who offered a few critical remarks about Pruitt last week before retracting them Wednesday. Telling reporters he was “a little embarrassed” to have criticized his friend, Inhofe renewed his support for Pruitt, who later that day, joined Cruz in calling for an investigation into the NSF’s grants.

While lawmakers target the NSF, Trump has turned to other climate initiatives. This week the president rescinded the Obama-era National Oceans Policy, which aimed to restore ocean and coastal ecosystems. In its place, the White House released a new executive order that drops references to “social justice” and  “conservation,” calling instead for a focus on “economy, security, and global competitiveness” with regard to U.S. waters.