- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Scott Pruitt went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to tout the administration’s regulatory rollback, but the Environmental Protection Agency administrator’s appearance before a key Senate panel was overshadowed by his past declaration that President Trump “would be more abusive to the Constitution than Barack Obama.”

The inflammatory remark, made during a February 2016 interview with “The Pat Campbell Show” in Oklahoma, surfaced during Mr. Pruitt’s time before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Sen Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, unearthed the comments prior to the hearing; they had not been widely reported until Tuesday.

The EPA chief, who made the statements while serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general, also agreed during the interview that Mr. Trump was a “bully” and “dangerous.”

“I believe that Donald Trump in the White House would be more abusive to the Constitution than Barack Obama — and that’s saying a lot,” he concluded.

Mr. Pruitt quickly tried to walk back those comments after questioning from Mr. Whitehouse on Tuesday.

“I don’t echo that at all today,” he said.

Mr. Pruitt certainly isn’t the only Cabinet member to have offered stinging criticism of Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, for example, famously called the president a “cancer on conservatism” during the race.

For Mr. Pruitt, the comments came as he was serving as an adviser to one of Mr. Trump’s top rivals, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Democrats seized on the remarks to try to drive a wedge between members of the administration prior to Tuesday night’s highly anticipated State of the Union address.

“We’re going to hear from the president tonight. I think the president is going to be speaking to a country in which millions of people share your concerns of Feb. 4, 2016, about a president who you believed then would be abusive to the Constitution, a bully, and dangerous,” Mr. Whitehouse said.

Republicans all but ignored the revelations around Mr. Pruitt’s 2016 interview and instead focused on his efforts to roll back key Obama-era regulations, including the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the U.S. rule, and a host of others.

Leading Republicans said Mr. Pruitt’s first year at the helm of the EPA has been a success, both in streamlining the agency and promoting job growth by reducing federal red tape.

“Administrator Pruitt has led the agency fairly. He has balanced the need to prioritize environmental protection with the desires of Americans to have thriving and economically sustainable communities,” said Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican and committee chairman, during the hearing.

On policy specifics, Mr. Pruitt said his agency continues to evaluate whether to recommend that fuel-economy standards for automobiles be reduced. Democrats argued that any rollback of the clean-car program would carry grave consequences.

“We have a moral responsibility to put the fuel-economy standard of our vehicles at the highest possible level,” said Sen. Edward Markey, Massachusetts Democrat.

Mr. Pruitt also confirmed that he’s seriously considering decentralizing some of EPA’s work and could possibly open “operational units” in each state capital.

“This is a very important question with respect to how we do business and how we deliver services as an agency,” he said. “We’ve just begun this discussion internally.”

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