It was God’s blessings that brought him to us, according to Scott Pruitt’s resignation letter, and so it must be God’s blessings that are taking him away. His exit certainly was a deliverance for some EPA employees leaving work Thursday, shortly after the news broke.
“I am happy,” said one 15-year veteran headed out of 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW around 5:30 p.m. “He was never accepted. If you are going to be the environment chief, the environment has to be your passion.”
Otherwise, the employee said, “the green” will get you — the green meaning planet-loving civil servants as well as outside environmental activists. “They tortured him until he submitted,” he added. “They found stuff on him until he submitted.”
Boy, did they find stuff: the lotion errands, the tactical pants, the $43,000 soundproof booth, the courtside sports tickets from coal barons, the claim that flying coach endangered Pruitt’s life, the attempt to procure a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife.
The reaction in the EPA’s headquarters — underpopulated because it’s a holiday week — was one of surprise and relief, according to another employee, in a light-blue dress shirt and plaid tie.
“It’s a good day for the agency,” said the employee, choosing his words carefully and, like others, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Washington propriety still persists in some ways. “He was destroying the agen— well, he was not a friend of the environment, and I don’t think he was a friend of the agency.” A pause. A search for other words. But the first ones fit, so he repeated them: “It’s a good day.”
It was a hot day, too. Sweating bureaucrats hustled for the shade of the Metro alongside gangly boy tourists in “Make America Great Again” hats. A man in a Pruitt mask stood a couple of feet from the top of the Metro escalators, hoping to create a small spectacle there at the doorstep of the EPA.
Tourist son: “What does this joke mean?”
Tourist dad: “It’s Scott Pruitt.”
Tourist son: “Oh, was he fired?”
The man in the mask was Lukas Ross, senior policy analyst for the environmental group Friends of the Earth. He wore a wool suit and his head was encased in a stifling, papier-mache likeness of Pruitt that had a bobblehead effect. He held a banker’s box of office supplies, to represent Pruitt’s last day.
“Anyone know the way to the American Petroleum Institute?” Ross called out, his voice muffled. “Where’s the nearest Chick-fil-A?”
He removed the mask to comment on the situation, and to get some oxygen. “It is an embarrassment that Scott Pruitt was able to keep his job as long as he did,” said Ross, brow drizzling sweat. “Everyone should celebrate his removal.”
The end has been near for some time now. Even folks back in Oklahoma have been waiting for the ax to fall, according to Republican Todd Hiett, a former state speaker of the house who ran against Pruitt for lieutenant governor in 2006.
“In my political circles, yes, there’s a lot of discussion,” said Hiett, who lives outside Kellyville, Okla., in a phone interview last month. “Nothing informative, just the usual political chatter: ‘They’re really after Pruitt. Is Pruitt going to make it?’ ”
Pruitt didn’t make it.
Another EPA employee stopped for a photo with papier-mache Pruitt and gave a hearty thumbs-up afterward. She wouldn’t comment any further, though. “Oh no,” she said, fleeing down the escalators. “I’m a former journalist. Nope. Nope.”
Just a day before, on the Fourth of July, Pruitt was at the White House, wearing a red gingham shirt; he looked like a picnic blanket, at home on the South Lawn, instead of a marked man. And now? Toast. In his resignation letter Thursday, he complained of “unrelenting attacks,” presumably from the media, investigators, activists, fed-up lawmakers and other reasonable human beings. The letter used versions of the word “bless” four times and “serve” nine times.
“I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence,” Pruitt wrote to President Trump. “I believe that same providence brought me into your service.”
“Bye, Scott!” said yet another EPA employee, dressed in suspenders, after taking a photo of papier-mache Pruitt. “Bye, Scott!” the man repeated as he stepped onto the escalator. He waved gleefully as he was carried underground. “See you in Oklahoma!”
Did we mention that last year Pruitt bought 12 customized silver fountain pens for $1,560? That’s $130 a pen, which would be a good deal if ink cured leukemia.
The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington issued a one-word press release on Pruitt’s resignation: “Good.”
Ross, the mask off briefly, cautioned that the celebration should be followed by vigilance. “The only person more dangerous than Scott Pruitt,” he said, “is Andrew Wheeler” — who is now acting EPA administrator until Trump names a replacement and who once worked for climate-change denier Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.).
Added Ross: “We look forward to making a mask of Wheeler.”