With EPA chief Scott Pruitt under fire for flying first-class on the taxpayer's dime, approving a pipeline project backed by his oil lobbyist landlord, and giving his two "favorite" aides a big raise over the objections of White House staffers, President Donald Trump rushed to his scandal-ridden cabinet member's defense in a phone call Monday night, telling him to "keep fighting" and insisting "we got your back."
"Whether it's handouts to the fossil fuel industry or first class luxuries for himself, Pruitt is the ultimate example of the Trump administration's corruption."
—Lukas Ross, Friends of the Earth
"Keep your head up," the president reportedly added.
White House chief of staff John Kelly then doubled-down on Trump's reassurances in a conversation with Pruitt Tuesday morning, a call that came just hours after Politico reported that Kelly has considered ousting the EPA chief in the coming weeks.
While previous reports indicated that Trump is angry at the flood of negative headlines Pruitt has generated in recent days, oil lobbyists and White House staffers have maintained that Pruitt's success in implementing the president's anti-environment agenda has kept him in his job.
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EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox insisted in a statement on Monday that "Administrator Pruitt is focused on advancing President Trump's agenda of regulatory certainty and environmental stewardship"—stewardship that apparently entails gutting regulations aimed at protecting the nation's water and rolling back anti-smog fuel efficiency standards.
As Pruitt receives words of encouragement from his bosses, green groups and government watchdogs are pushing harder than ever for his ouster.
Building on the "Boot Pruitt" campaign launched by a coalition of environmental organizations last week, Friends of the Earth on Tuesday announced plans to drive a truck displaying the message "Stop the Corruption. #FirePruitt" around EPA headquarters, Congress, and the EPA chief's former condo rental as he attends a private event with auto executives.
"Scott Pruitt prefers conspiring in private with polluters rather than defending his corrupt agenda in public," Lukas Ross, climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement on Tuesday. "Whether it's handouts to the fossil fuel industry or first class luxuries for himself, Pruitt is the ultimate example of the Trump administration's corruption."