- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2018

Unlike other members of President Trump’s Cabinet left to dangle in the wind when faced with controversy, conservatives have mounted a strong, coordinated defense of embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt over the past two weeks, arguing he’s become a target simply because he’s done more to advance the Republican agenda than any other government official.

Mr. Pruitt is facing a host of Environmental Protection Agency inspector-general investigations and a White House review related to his $50-per-night condo rental from the wife of a prominent energy industry lobbyist, his expensive private security detail, and questions about whether he signed off on raises for two top aides — raises the White House initially rejected. Those and other issues have led to increasing calls for the administrator to step down, including from a handful of Republicans.

But prominent conservatives in Congress, along with influential Republicans outside the government, have rushed to Mr. Pruitt’s defense in a way not seen when other administration officials found themselves in hot water.

“I think there’s one pretty simple reason: He does stuff,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who served on the Trump transition team. “Right, left or center, in Washington, if you do stuff, you’re going to pick up enemies from all kinds of quarters.”

Indeed, Mr. Pruitt has taken steps to unravel a host of Obama-era energy regulations, including the coal-crushing Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the U.S. rule that gave the government power over small bodies of water across the country, and others. He was also one of the loudest voices in persuading Mr. Trump to pull out of the Paris climate accord.

Mr, McKenna and other Republicans argue that Mr. Pruitt’s clear record of accomplishment is spurring conservatives to come to his defense and that the president places a premium on those policy results and knows his administration’s effort to roll back regulations is what will stand the test of time.

“He’s not going to be judged on whether the EPA administrator got a little heavy-handed on security,” he said. “No. He’s going to be judged on what was the effect of the EPA on the 300 million Americans who aren’t living in Washington, D.C.”

The backing of Mr. Pruitt stands in stark contrast to the abandonment of other top administration officials who resigned or were fired after ethical controversies or policy disagreements, such as former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, former Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and others.

But their lists of concrete accomplishments, by all accounts, pale in comparison to that of Mr. Pruitt, and Republicans have taken note.

“So far, his reforms are estimated to save taxpayers over $1 billion in deregulatory savings. He’s been an effective member of the president’s team and I look forward to continuing to work with him to restore the EPA to its proper size and scope,” Sen. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said earlier this month.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, earlier this month called Mr. Pruitt “the bravest and most conservative member of Trump’s Cabinet.” Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said activists on the left — including “Obama groupies” — want to force the EPA chief out.

“This is so compelling. Why do Obama and his media cronies want so badly to drive @EPAScottPruitt out of office?” he tweeted recently.

The leaders of groups such as the Tea Party Patriots Citizen Fund, March for Life Action, Heritage Action for America, FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth and dozens of others signed a letter earlier this month urging the president to stand by Mr. Pruitt.

“He is critical to President Trump’s efforts to streamline agency efforts in a way that assists American families and the economy. We applaud President Trump for his appointment of Scott Pruitt and support his continued tenure at the EPA,” they wrote.

For his part, Mr. Pruitt has blamed much of the controversy swirling around him on political enemies, including some inside the EPA itself, which he described as a “bastion of liberalism” during an interview with The Washington Times two weeks ago.

While it’s unclear how much voters in the upcoming midterm elections will care about Mr. Pruitt, his controversies, or his job performance, Democrats are using the administrator for their own political purposes.

“Pruitt’s abuses of power are part of a disturbing pattern in the Trump administration. That’s not what public service is supposed to be about,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, said in a fundraising email Sunday. “Especially when you’re running an agency in charge of protecting our environment for future generations.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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