Democracy Dies in Darkness

Post Partisan | Opinion

Can Scott and Marlyn Pruitt have it all?

June 14, 2018 at 8:48 AM

Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito, right, swears in Scott Pruitt as Environmental Protection Agency administrator last year in Washington. Holding the Bible is Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn Pruitt, and their son Cade Pruitt is standing second from right. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Scott Pruitt’s wife Marlyn is proving all the feminist doubters wrong.

Ever since Lisa Belkin’s seminal 2003 New York Times Magazine piece, “The Opt-Out Revolution,” feminists have been wringing their hands fearing economic disaster for women who left the workforce to tend to their children. But clearly they missed a pivotal part of the story of how those women could easily return to the paid labor force: They could simply lean on their more powerful husbands to get them gigs.

Take the case of Marlyn Pruitt, a simple tale of an opt-outer made good.

It doesn’t appear that Marlyn Pruitt, a former school nurse, took on much in the way of paid work in recent years. Her nursing licenses expired in 1996. She went on to spend the better part of the next two decades raising the couple’s children. While surely emotionally rewarding, it wasn’t financially lucrative. According to required Oklahoma state ethics filings, Scott Pruitt — the state’s attorney general at the time — said his wife did not earn more than $5,000 in 2014 and 2015.

This turned out to be something of an issue when the Pruitts began experiencing financial woes as a result of maintaining residences in both Washington and Tulsa on Scott Pruitt’s $189,600 annual salary as the new head of the EPA.

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Scott Pruitt has resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. But will he take his press shop with him? Media critic Erik Wemple demonstrates how the EPA's spokesman has changed the tone in Washington, and not in a good way. (Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

So the scandal-plagued Pruitt, a schnorrer par excellence, knew exactly how to help his wife and repair the household finances. He directed a top EPA aide to act as an employment counselor and reach out to Republican donors who could offer Marlyn Pruitt employment. As The Post reported, “The job hunt included Pruitt’s approaching wealthy party supporters and conservative figures with ties to the Trump administration.”

And what do you know? It worked!

The Judicial Crisis Network, a right-wing advocacy network that contributed millions to Pruitt-associated groups in the past, heeded the call after receiving Marlyn Pruitt’s résumé via a senior executive at the Federalist Society. The JCN hired Marlyn for a temporary contractor gig that ended earlier this year. Another employer, the New York nonprofit Concordia, paid Marlyn Pruitt $2,000 last year to assist with the group’s annual three-day conference — at which one of the speakers was a certain Scott Pruitt.

Few formerly unemployed moms are this lucky in their contacts and job-hunting efforts. “Moms ‘opting in’ to work find doors shut,” opined CNN in a typical example of what happens to most women with Marlyn Pruitt’s résumé — or lack of one — in the U.S. job market. Many in her position find themselves peddling everything from costume jewelry to skin-care products to their friends for multi-level marketing companies, an endeavor that rarely earns them significant money. Others pick up work in the gig economy, doing things such as completing tasks on Mechanical Turk or driving for Uber. Still another group returns to school and racks up student debt in an effort to burnish their credentials. They take adult internships – or returnships, as they are sometimes called — in an effort to regain a place in the paid workforce.

True, like many a job hunter, Marlyn Pruitt experienced disappointment, too. She seems to have given up on the dream of acquiring a Chick-fil-A franchise, something her husband attempted to facilitate by arranging a call with the popular chicken sandwich chain’s CEO. (He eventually instead spoke with the company’s legal department.) Doug Deason, a Dallas investor with significant interests in oil and gas, also declined to help the former stay-at-home mom after the EPA director approached Deason on his wife’s behalf. “I couldn’t find anything that made sense, that wasn’t some kind of conflict,” he told The Post.

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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces rising scrutiny over several ethics issues, including his use of taxpayer money. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

The revelations about Marlyn Pruitt’s strangely successful career rejuvenation have turned a few Scott Pruitt supporters into doubters. Conservative talk-radio host Laura Ingraham said on Wednesday that he should step down. So did National Review. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) announced that he would like a sitdown with the EPA chief over reported ethical missteps, adding that he believes Pruitt’s deputy, Andrew Wheeler, is more than qualified to do the job if his boss resigns.

But President Trump appears to remain firmly in Pruitt’s corner, at least for now. And as long as the president continues to look favorably on his EPA chief, Scott and Marlyn Pruitt can continue to have it all.

Read more:

Scott Pruitt’s disastrous tenure at the EPA, as told through cartoons

Donald Trump owns all of Scott Pruitt’s scandals

Scott Pruitt is acting like what he is: The poorest member of Trump’s Cabinet

Why Scott Pruitt has survived an avalanche of scandals — and why his survival could endanger the Trump administration

Helaine Olen is a contributor to Post Opinions and the author of "Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry." Her work has appeared in Slate, the Nation, the New York Times, the Atlantic and many other publications. She serves on the advisory board of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

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