Republican senators are losing patience with embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, but they stopped short of calling for him to resign this week after new revelations about questionable decisions he has made.
Several Republican senators voiced concerns about Pruitt’s conduct, even as they praised the policy agenda he is spearheading. And they are carefully avoiding the question of whether he ought to step down, leaving that decision to President Trump and his administration.
The Senate, which is responsible for confirming Cabinet secretaries, barely tilts Republican, 51-49. With Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) home battling a serious form of brain cancer, even one defection during key votes means party leaders need a Democrat to cross over to confirm a Cabinet nominee. The prospect of another big confirmation battle would represent a new complication for Republicans as the midterm election draws near.
“Well, it’s not helpful to be sure, but the administrator serves at the pleasure of the president, and the Congress really doesn’t have a role once confirmation occurs,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the second-ranking Republican senator, of Pruitt’s behavior.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said, “We like the work he’s doing as the administrator, but, naturally, all of the different issues that continue to pop up with regard to personal activities and so forth begin to wear a person down in the job they are doing.”
But asked whether Pruitt should step down, Rounds said, “At this stage of the game, that’s up to the president.”
The Washington Post and other news outlets have published reports this week detailing new evidence of Pruitt’s controversial management and resignations from his team.
Pruitt enlisted an aide to help his wife find a job with Chick-fil-A, The Post reported. He also had an aide do various personal tasks, including hunting for a used Trump hotel mattress. Federal ethics laws bar public officials from using their position or staff for private gain.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), who is number three in the GOP leadership, said his patience level with Pruitt is “wearing thin.”
“It is ultimately the president’s call, but I don’t think he would have many people around here who would object to any decision he might make about the administrator’s future,” Thune said.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) sounded similar notes.
“My patience level is pretty much fed up,” Ernst said. She said she feels “there are lot of folks really questioning Administrator Pruitt’s ability to do his job and not be part of the swamp.”
Pruitt has aggressively sought to roll back federal regulations, winning cheers from conservatives.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said, “I think what keeps him around is that the policies he’s implementing, most people like.”
For some, that may be not enough.
“It’s not good,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “None of the revelations have been good.”
Asked whether it is time for Pruitt to step down, Johnson offered a response that was typical of Republican senators. “That’s up to the administration to decide what to do there,” he said.