Sen. Inhofe criticizes Scott Pruitt, wants face-to-face meeting with embattled EPA chief

Source: By Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2018

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) raised the possibility of replacing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in an interview Wednesday that he has requested a face-to-face meeting with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to discuss the allegations of ethical misconduct dogging him, saying that Pruitt would be “in a very awkward position not to answer to me, and to answer me truthfully,” if they sat down together.

Speaking earlier in the day to conservative talk radio show host Laura Ingraham, Inhofe said that Pruitt needs to put the management problems that have come to mark his tenure behind him, otherwise one of the alternatives would be “for him to leave that job.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, however, Inhofe said he was not calling on Pruitt to resign. On Wednesday, Ingraham called on the EPA administrator to quit in the wake of a Post report that he had tasked a top aide with soliciting job offers for his wife from Republican donors.

Inhofe, who is managing a defense authorization bill on the floor of the Senate, said in the interview that he wanted to ask Pruitt about his spending and management decisions, which have been extensively covered in the press this year. “I’m keeping my powder dry until I talk to him, which would be Monday at the very latest,” the senator said.

An early backer of Pruitt’s, Inhofe noted in his interview with Ingraham that EPA Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who was recently confirmed by the Senate, was fully qualified to carry out President Trump’s agenda.

“I would say this, that there’s a guy behind him, Andrew Wheeler, who’s really qualified, too, so you know we could, that might be a good swap.” the senator said, adding that he was sending “a communication” to the agency on Wednesday to say that “we’ve had enough of these things, we need to get down and do the job we’re elected to do.”

Inhofe’s comments came on a day when other conservatives withdrew support for the EPA chief, who faces a dozen federal ethics probes into his spending and management decisions at the agency.

Ingraham herself  tweeted that Pruitt has needed to go because his poor decisions were “hurting” President Trump.

Separately, the conservative National Review on Wednesday published an editorialentitled, “Scott Pruitt Should Go.”

“We are now at a point where a good week for Pruitt sees only one report of behavior that is bizarre or venal,” the piece read. “We share most of Pruitt’s views about environmental policy. But the same could be said of many other people, including Andrew Wheeler, the agency’s deputy administrator, who would become acting administrator upon a vacancy in the top job. Pruitt is replaceable. And he should be replaced.”

The EPA could not be immediately reached for comment on the matter.

Inhofe is not the only senator to question the EPA administrator’s spending and management practices, though two other prominent GOP critics — Sens. Charles E. Grassley and Joni Ernst, both of Iowa — have largely focused on his approach to ethanol policy. On Wednesday, Grassley remarked at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, “Pruitt is ill-serving the president.”

Inhofe’s remarks came the same week that the American Future Fund, a conservative nonprofit group based in Iowa, launched a 30-second ad calling for Pruitt’s resignation, describing him as a “swamp monster” who is “embarrassing President Trump.”

Dino Grandoni contributed to this report.