On July 5, President Donald Trump, in a tweet, announced that Scott Pruitt had resigned as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. This was not immediately accompanied by any more formal WhiteHouse.gov statement, and the tweet gave no specific reason for the resignation.
But earlier that day The New York Times had reported that Pruitt may have been deleting sensitive information about his schedule from his calendar, and that one of his schedulers had been fired for raising questions about this point.
Ms Morris, the fired schedule, has told the Times that she believes the deletions are illegal. Whether this is so or not, her belief that it is so could have turned this into a scandal about a fired whistleblower.
If the Morris matter is the proximate cause of Pruitt’s departure, it is surely a case of the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” And Pruitt has been diligent in piling up the straws to his own detriment.
In December of last year, Pruitt travelled to Morocco to promote the export of liquified natural gas from the United States to that country. The necessity of the trip was never clear, since the EPA typically plays no role in the promotion of LNG exports. Such matters are more appropriate for officials of the Energy Department or the FERC. Also, the taxpayer expenses involved seemed high to many (Pruitt had a 10-person entourage with him) , and the trip wasn’t disclosed to the public via a press release until after it was concluded.
In April of this year the public learned that the townhouse that Pruitt lived in for much of his first year in DC was owned by a limited liability company which was in turn owned by Vicki Hart, a lobbyist.
What was worse, Ms Hart is the wife of J. Steven Hart, the chairman of a lobbying firm that works for a number of clients in the energy industry. Many of those clients gain or lose as a result of EPA decisions.
Pruitt, in short, was getting below-market rent in a situation that was chock-a-block with conflict of interest.
In June, accounts surfaced that Pruitt had sought to use his prominence in Washington to secure a lucrative franchise for his wife from the corporate headquarters of a chain of fast food restaurants.
There have been other controversies, as well, but what kept Pruitt in good standing with the President through them all was his deregulatory fervor.
From the Right
But the question for this column is of course: how are the left and right in the United States reacting to Pruitt’s departure?
The early conservative reactions were somewhat half-hearted and defensive. Cries of “Pruitt was framed!” were nowhere to be found. There seemed to be broad agreement that all the scandals had become, at best, a distraction.
The conservatives at RedState.com, a collective blog, praise Pruitt as a “very competent official with a clear vision for the EPA and an encyclopedia knowledge of the evil it was capable of….” They clearly believe in the deregulatory agenda he has pursued in his year and a half in office.
Nonetheless, the RedState crowd assign the responsibility to Scott Pruitt’s fall to … Scott Pruitt. They say that his own hubris led him to grasp for the perks of office in an unseemly way that naturally produced a parade of scandals — a parade that, in the end, the administration could not tolerate.
Breitbart, the alt-right vehicle that may have done a good deal to make Trump the President, said just a month before Pruitt’s departure that it was only the “hard left activists” who were after his scalp. But on the day that the camel’s back broke, Breitbart had nothing to say about it beyond laying out the Trump tweets and Pruitt’s own resignation letter with minimal explanatory text.
Henry I. Miller, writing on Fox News’ website, wished away questions about “how Pruitt conducted himself personally,” that is, about the sort of scandals listed above, and wrote at some length about his view that Pruitt’s policy direction was right, that the EPA under Obama had become “unwise, unscientific” and prone to excessive regulation. It needed to be reined in, and Pruitt started that process, one which Miller hopes his successor will continue.
Todd Griffith, on twitter, emphatically agreed with Miller, saying: “The Marxists will never be satisfied with anyone that doesn’t tow the line on the Climate Change lie.”
From the Left
The left generally doesn’t want to see the Pruitt resignation as about the specifics of the scandals, or even the fact that Pruitt was so scandal-prone in general. It wants to see this resignation as an product of and thus as casting shade upon the whole deregulatory agenda.
One can enjoy a clever tweet to that effect here.
Jill Wine-Banks, an MSNBC contributor, was celebratory in her tweet on the subject: “The swamp isn’t drained, but one swamp creature is gone.”
Some of the leftward commentary on Pruitt’s resignation asked itself the question, “now that we’ve gotten this particularly swampy creature, who is the next Trump flunky and hireling on whom we should focus out attentions? Is it, perhaps, Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce?”
The left also has striven in the days since Pruitt’s departure to convey the ideas that (1) Pruitt isn’t going to go away — he remains an ambitious man worth wary watching, and (2) his successor at the EPA could well be worse.
Rebecca Leber, at Slate, writes on the theme of Pruitt’s future. She quotes a professor at the University of Tulsa who has followed Pruitt’s career and who says, “I don’t think EPA is his ultimate destination.” A Senate seat may be up for grabs in Oklahoma in 2020, and (if the 83 year old incumbent decides to retire) it may be very much “in play.”
Pruitt’s immediate though interim successor is his No. 2 man at the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, now “acting administrator.” Wheeler could also receive Trump’s nomination to take on the job in his own right. But even if he doesn’t, he will likely remain “acting” in that role for months.
The left is dismayed at this, and its constant refrain is that Wheeler is a former lobbyist for a coal company. ‘Nuff said? Well … certainly not. More will be.
The actress Bette Midler tweeted, “As Scott Pruitt resigns as head of the EPA, he leaves … a former coal lobbyist in charge. It’s like a set of toxic nesting dolls, a reference I know our Russian bosses will appreciate.”
Evie Price, replying to Midler, tweeted, “Thank you for your activism and your biting humor. Both are appreciated!”
A Final Thought
Another way of looking at the Pruitt departure doesn’t really fit into either of the above categories. Perhaps this departure is a testimony to the power and pragmatic value of a free press, and a press that takes upon itself an investigative responsibility. That is Brian Stelter’s view.
Lachlan Markay also makes this point in a tweet, saying that it is odd that some people act as if “Scott Pruitt resigned because of negative media coverage” is somehow an alternative explanation to “Scott Pruitt resigned because he was corrupt.” The two explanations, Markay says, reinforce one another.