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GOP senators push back on calls to investigate Pruitt

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GOP senators push back on calls to investigate Pruitt

Republican Senators are pushing back on calls to investigate Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt , despite growing pressure for him to resign. Key Republicans overseeing the EPA and its budget are resisting calls from Democrats and environmentalists to open new investigations or hold hearings on a number of recent scandals connected to Pruitt. Instead, Republicans are deferring to the White House, which is investigating various allegations against Pruitt, including his use of a $50-a-night condo from the wife of a prominent energy lobbyist and overspending taxpayer money on a round-the-clock security team and first-class travel.  The EPA’s Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are additionally working on their own investigations into various ethical questions surrounding Pruitt. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — the Senate committee which would likely take the lead in an investigation of Pruitt if one were to be opened — said he is letting the White House take the lead. “Certain questions have been raised about internal operations of the agency and the administrator’s actions,” he said in a statement Monday. “The White House has indicated it has taken on a formal review of these questions. I will wait for the outcome of that process.” The White House announced last week that it’s investigating the various controversies involving Pruitt. However, President Trump appeared to absolve his Cabinet secretary Saturday, tweeting: “While Security spending was somewhat than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA. Record clean Air & Water while saving USA Billions of Dollars. Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job!” Nevertheless, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who sits on the Environment and Public Works committee, said he is comfortable letting the White House’s investigation play out. “Under EPW, we have oversight on the agency, and once we find out what the White House comes up with in terms of their investigation, then we can decide whether or not it’s something that gets into the operations of the EPA,” Rounds said. “At this point, we’ll wait until the White House finishes their review.” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said Pruitt is “doing a great job” at the EPA, and he’ll take a “wait and see” approach for the White House’s probe. “There’s plenty of rules, regulations, processes for these kinds of issues, whether you’re an elected official or an appointed official. Let that play out,” Daines said. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who chairs the Appropriations Committee subpanel that oversees the EPA’s budget, recognized that the controversies could be hurting the EPA. “If there are questions that are coming up that are detracting you from the responsibilities that you have, those can be issues, yeah. Those can be real concerns,” she said. Murkowski said she’d let the White House take the lead on looking into Pruitt, but she didn’t rule out questioning Pruitt on the matters when he comes before her subcommittee. She has not yet scheduled a hearing with him on the EPA’s fiscal 2019 budget request, but she expects to. “I think that we will have an opportunity through the committee hearings to have these issues be raised,” she said. “If I were the administrator, I’d certainly be prepared to answer anything that may come his way.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Monday that the investigation is still ongoing.  Democrats have been less willing to let the White House take the reigns. Coming back from a two-week recess, members of Congress on the left have been emphatic that Pruitt should be held accountable for some of these questionable decisions. A group of four Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday called for Pruitt to resign. “EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has become the poster child for the Trump Administration’s shameful culture of corruption.  Pruitt has repeatedly used his position to enrich himself rather than protect the lives of the American people he was appointed to serve,” they wrote in a statement. “His actions have jeopardized EPA’s ability to protect human health and the environment, and the only way to regain the American people’s trust in EPA is for Pruitt to resign immediately. Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works panel, criticized what he saw as a lack of action on the GOP’s part over the Pruitt scandals. “I think there’s a reluctance on the part of a majority that’s in the same party as the White House to put the White House and the administration under the microscope,” he said. “If the shoe were on the other foot, if it were the Obama administration and Gina McCarthy were the EPA administrator, the Republican majority would have dragged her in before us, not every day of every week, but probably every week, to address and delve into her misdeeds.” On Tuesday, Carper and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote Barrasso a letter in part requesting he schedule a hearing on Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail — which recent reports estimate have cost nearly $3 million.  Barrasso declined, saying in a statement that it could threaten Pruitt’s safety. “This is exactly why members should not publicly disclose information that relates to the safety of a cabinet member. It is also why this committee will not hold a hearing on this issue,” Barrasso said in a statement Tuesday.

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