House Republicans blocked an attempt by Democrats Wednesday to force Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt to fly economy class.
Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) forced a vote on the matter as a “motion to recommit” on a GOP-backed bill to delay air pollution standards for brick kilns and wood-fired heaters.
The action was destined to fail. But it nonetheless forced Republicans to go on the record on the issue, which has attracted widespread scorn from environmentalists, Democrats and even some Republicans.
Pruitt in recent weeks has been found to have flown first class or business class frequently on the taxpayer’s dime, costing thousands of dollars.
“There’s no adequate justification for this wasteful spending and abuse of power by Scott Pruitt,” Castor said on the House floor. “And if he enjoys flying first class and staying in luxury hotels, then he should pay for it himself and not ask taxpayers to foot the bill.”
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Environment, criticized the move as a distraction from the policy at hand.
“I don’t think we build and use bricks to make our airplanes, and I don’t think we power our planes with wood heaters,” he responded on the floor. “It’s just purely politics, and it’s not surprising. Why? Democrats want to distort us from the economic success of the Republican agenda.”
Castor’s amendment failed 186-227, while the underlying bill passed 234-180.
Pruitt is just one of many Trump Cabinet officials under scrutiny for travel costs, including Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin , Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin . Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned last year amid bipartisan criticism of his travel expenses.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox declined to comment on Castor’s action except to refer to Pruitt’s appearance last week on “The Takeout,” a podcast hosted by CBS News’s Major Garrett.
Pruitt has repeatedly stated that his first-class flights came about due to assessments by his security detail, and he promised to fly coach in the future as often as his detail feels he could while remaining safe, including on his next flight.
“The quantity and type of threats that I face are unprecedented,” he said. “They wanted me on a position on the plane to be able to exit expeditiously if an incident arose, and that’s why the change arose.”
“I’ve instructed those same individuals to accommodate those security threats in alternate ways up to and including flying coach, going forward.”
Henry Barnet, director of the agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, told Politico that the incidents that caused Pruitt to fly first class were mostly confrontations with angry passengers in airports and on airplanes, including one time that a passenger yelled, “Scott Pruitt, you’re f—ing up the environment!”