Pressed on Trump, Pruitt soft­ens ’16 as­sess­ment

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - MICHAEL BIESECKER

WASH­ING­TON — En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency chief Scott Pruitt sought to dis­tance him­self Tues­day from his 2016 state­ments that then-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump is a bully who, if elected, would abuse the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Pruitt made the com­ments in Fe­bru­ary 2016 while ap­pear­ing on a con­ser­va­tive talk ra­dio pro­gram in Ok­la­homa, where he served as the state’s Repub­li­can at­tor­ney gen­eral. At the time, Pruitt sup­ported Jeb Bush for the GOP nom­i­na­tion.

Sen. Shel­don White­house, D-R.I., sought to use Pruitt’s own words against him dur­ing an over­sight hear­ing and had an aide hold the quotes up on large signs. White­house’s of­fice also re­leased au­dio of Pruitt’s 2016 com­ments to talk ra­dio host Pat Campbell of sta­tion KFAQ in Tulsa.

Pruitt said he ap­peared on Campbell’s show sev­eral times but could not re­call mak­ing those spe­cific com­ments about Trump, who ap­pointed him a year later to lead the EPA. Pruitt added that he now would not agree with his past com­ments.

Pruitt later is­sued a state­ment prais­ing Trump as “the most con­se­quen­tial leader of our time.”

But asked by Campbell two years ago if he was a big Trump sup­porter, Pruitt replied “No, no.” The clip from the pro­gram was un­earthed by Doc­u­mented, a left-lean­ing watch­dog group.

“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,” Pruitt said dur­ing the 2016 in­ter­view. “I think ex­ec­u­tive or­ders with Don­ald Trump would be a very blunt in­stru­ment with re­spect to the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

As EPA ad­min­is­tra­tor, Pruitt has cited Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­ders as the ba­sis for a wide ar­ray of reg­u­la­tory roll­backs, in­clud­ing moves to weaken lim­its on emis­sions of toxic heavy met­als from coal­fired power plants and wa­ter pol­lu­tion from fos­sil-fuel op­er­a­tions. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say those changes will lead di­rectly to dirt­ier air and wa­ter.

White­house pressed Pruitt about his past com­ments dur­ing a contentious hear­ing last­ing more than two hours. It was Pruitt’s first ap­pear­ance be­fore the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works since his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing nearly a year ago.

Repub­li­cans used the oc­ca­sion to praise Pruitt’s lead­er­ship at the agency.

“Ad­min­is­tra­tor Pruitt has … bal­anced the need to pri­or­i­tize en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion with the de­sires of Amer­i­cans to have thriv­ing and eco­nom­i­cally sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties,” said com­mit­tee Chair­man John Bar­rasso of Wy­oming.

Democrats, mean­while, pep­pered Pruitt with de­tailed ques­tions about pol­icy changes fa­vor­ing fos­sil-fuel and chem­i­cal com­pa­nies.

“EPA has moved to either re­peal, re­con­sider or de­lay at least 25 en­vi­ron­men­tal and pub­lic health pro­tec­tions in the last year alone,” said Tom Carper of Delaware, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the com­mit­tee. “Those aren’t achieve­ments, Mr. Pruitt. Those are the ex­act op­po­site — clear fail­ures to act.”

Pruitt brushed off ques­tions from reporters as he left the hear­ing, but min­utes later the EPA’s press of­fice is­sued a state­ment dis­avow­ing his 2016 com­ments on the ra­dio.

“Af­ter meet­ing him, and now hav­ing the honor of work­ing for him, it is abun­dantly clear that Pres­i­dent Trump is the most con­se­quen­tial leader of our time,” Pruitt said Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to the agency’s state­ment.


EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt tes­ti­fies Tues­day be­fore the Se­nate En­vi­ron­ment Com­mit­tee.

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