Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s already very bad week is only getting worse.
On Tuesday morning, the Atlantic reported that Pruitt defied the White House to give big raises to two of his chief aides. And on Monday night, the Washington Post reported that last year, Pruitt considered leasing a private jet on a month-to-month basis. This comes just days after reports that he and his daughter lived in a DC townhouse owned by the family of an energy lobbyist at a huge discount. Before that, it was reported by the Post that he spent $43,000 to put a soundproof phone booth in his office. And before that was a report in February that Pruitt had spent $90,000 on travel in early June of last year, including a $36,000 flight on a private military jet to take him from Ohio to New York in order to catch a flight to Rome.
Because of this, the Wall Street Journal said last night that the White House is “conducting a review” of Pruitt’s activities. And Politico reported that the White House even considered firing Pruitt, but that he has one huge thing going for him: he’s doing exactly what Trump wants, most recently with Monday’s news that he’s killing Obama administration fuel efficiency rules.
Per Politico, Pruitt has been in hot water with chief of staff John Kelly, but his backers think he can tough it out:
“Scott Pruitt has proven that he’s not afraid to stick his neck out and take on some big issues, and [Monday’s announcement] is another example of that,” said Myron Ebell, the energy director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who ran Trump’s EPA transition team. He added: “Now whether that helps him given his bad press on these other things, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Mike McKenna, an energy lobbyist who worked on the administration’s transition team, said he doubts the recent news stories about Pruitt would even register with the White House when compared with his policy efforts, including the move to reverse fuel standards. “I think he’s an A student. ... He’s always working. He’s always focused on the agenda. He’s always trying to figure out ways to make the boss look good.”
In other words, Scott Pruitt is doing his job, which is to defang the EPA and remake it into an organ of industry.
Contrast Pruitt’s experience with recently fired former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Shulkin also spent a ton of money on travel and personal expenses, and had a particularly damaging report come out in the Washington Post that his agency was embroiled in infighting. But unlike Pruitt, Shulkin also pushed back on the administration’s philosophy of constant deregulation, specifically on the question of privatizing the VA hospitals. Shulkin himself said as much in a New York Times op-ed after his firing:
It seems that these successes within the department have intensified the ambitions of people who want to put V.A. health care in the hands of the private sector. I believe differences in philosophy deserve robust debate, and solutions should be determined based on the merits of the arguments. The advocates within the administration for privatizing V.A. health services, however, reject this approach. They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed. That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.
The defining features of the Trump administration are callousness, stupidity, and corruption. But as the continued presence of Pruitt and others—like Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—shows, there’s always going to be a place in Trump’s circle for the callous and the stupid and the corrupt so long as they continue to do their job, and render the government even more thoroughly and completely useless than it already is.
Update, 9:25 AM: Toldja.