For months, it appeared that Scott Pruitt could stand in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and shoot somebody without losing President Trump’s support.
Now, not so much.
The scandal-prone Environmental Protection Agency administrator abruptly resigned Thursday, after months of a near-cartoonish level of villainy and malfeasance.
Earlier in the day, a senior White House official told CNN that Pruitt’s ethical abuses had him “inching forward to the tipping point.” But Pruitt’s entire tenure was a tipping point.
On the taxpayers’ dime, Pruitt bought a $43,000 soundproof phone booth for his office. He stayed in a tony Capitol Hill apartment, owned by a lobbyist, for only $50 a night. He used his aides in an attempt to get a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife. He stayed in fancy hotels booked on his staffers’ credit cards, then failed to reimburse them. We’ve already dropped $4.6 million on his security alone.
Only in a Trump administration would it take this long for Pruitt get the chop. He never needed to be subtle with his misdeeds because, as a member of this ethically bankrupt administration, no one cared. Any one of his Pruitt’s stunts would have cratered other political careers, yet he seemed to have more lives than a kennel’s worth of cats.
“Is Pruitt the most corrupt Cabinet-level official ever?” asked a CNN chyron recently. If he wasn’t, it was never for a lack of trying. Oh, and let’s not forget his actions as the man charged with safeguarding our environment. He conspired with Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate accords; weakened the Clean Air Act; suspended parts of the Clean Water Act; rolled back fuel efficiency and emissions standards for new cars; and gutted his department’s Office of Environmental Justice. And that’s just the beginning.
Years before he got the job, Pruitt said he wanted the EPA dismantled. With Trump’s blessing, he tried to do exactly that. The stain he’s left won’t soon fade.
Two days before Pruitt’s resignation, Hogan Gidley, the White House deputy press secretary, said, “The president feels as though Scott Pruitt has done a really good job with deregulating the government, to allow for a thriving economy; that’s important to him, but these things matter to the president as well, and he’s looking into those. When we have an announcement, we’ll make it.”
They finally made it.
How this will play with Trump’s base is unknown. They loved Pruitt, and that base, including deregulation-giddy corporate America, is now used to getting whatever terrible thing it wants. To his most ardent suppoters, Trump doesn’t wants is to appear as if he capitulated to Democrats’ outrage.
Trump is coming off a series of Supreme Court victories, and is revving up to announce on Monday his next high court nominee. Even though he crowed last month about Pruitt “doing a great job,” Trump has finally accepted the obvious: Pruitt was more political liability than asset.
The president may have been the last to know. On Monday, a woman walked up to Pruitt’s table in a Washington, D.C., restaurant to chastise him. “I just wanted to urge you to resign because of what you’re doing to the environment and our country,” said Kristin Mink, while holding her 2-year-old son.
Here’s a sobering thought: Pruitt’s replacement could be even worse.
On any given day, most Trump Cabinet members vie for the worst ever. Pruitt grifted his way into a league all his own. Under any past administration, Pruitt would have hit the bricks long ago. Yet endless revelations about the EPA secretary’s abuses often seemed to pale compared to this presidency’s other ethical and policy failures. I also suspect Trump enjoyed it as a distracting sideshow. The more time we spent talking about Pruitt, the less time spent on stories about children in cages, separated from their families. For a while, Trump found a tarnished silver lining in Pruitt’s corruption.
Like cockroaches after a nuclear apocalypse, Pruitt once looked like he could survive anything. Ultimately, he didn’t. And while he’s finally gone, the rest of us will continue to reckon with what remains of this infestation of a presidency.