Three Republican senators voice concern about EPA head Scott Pruitt's conduct

(J. Scott Applewhite | The Associated Press) In this Jan. 18, 2017 file photo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator-designate, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Pruitt has spent millions of dollars in taxpayer funds on unprecedented security precautions that include a full-time detail of 20 armed officers, according to agency sources and documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

Washington • Three Republican senators expressed concern Sunday about embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, amid growing scrutiny over his spending and management practices.

Sens. John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine voiced worry about Pruitt’s conduct in interviews on morning television talks shows. Their comments came just hours after President Donald Trump defended Pruitt, writing on Twitter that he was doing “a great job.”

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., also defended the EPA head. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined to comment on Pruitt’s situation but said he was certain that president had reviewed it.

The sharpest Republican criticism came from Kennedy, who said Pruitt ought to hold a “full-blown press conference” to address the criticism he has received.

“Stop leading with your chin,” Kennedy said in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Now these are unforced errors. They are stupid. There are a lot of problems we can’t solve. But you can behave. I don’t mean to denigrate Mr. Pruitt, but doggone it, he represents the president of the United States, and it is hurting his boss and it needs to stop.”

Pruitt has come under the spotlight in recent weeks for decisions executed during his tenure about that have raised ethics questions. These include his $50-a-night rental from a lobbyist last year, large raises for two top advisers despite a lack of White House approval and a security detail that has required far more resources than his predecessors needed.

Graham said that Pruitt has “done a good job” but that he is waiting to see what a congressional oversight panel has to say. In an appearance on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” Graham singled out reports about Pruitt’s rental.

“The bottom line - this doesn’t look good,” the senator said.

Collins, who was the only Republican senator to vote against confirming Pruitt, said she believes that his policy decisions have validated that vote and that the ethics questions he is facing don’t help him.

“This daily drip of accusations of excessive spending and ethical violations serve to further distract the agency from accomplishing its very important mission,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

On Saturday night, Trump issued a tweet stating: “While Security spending was somewhat more 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!”

Rounds echoed Trump’s tweet, saying Pruitt is saving taxpayer money by shrinking the activities of the agency and rolling back Obama-era regulations. He said that some of the news coverage of Pruitt’s activities may be “overblown” and that the administrator’s critics “nitpick little things.”

“The reason why all of the emphasis right now is on Mr. Pruitt is because he is executing these policies,” Rounds said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” And they’re not real popular policies with a lot of people. But he is executing the policies that this president said he would put in place.”

On “Face the Nation,” Mnuchin said, “as it relates to the specifics of Scott’s situation, I can’t comment on them, but I’m sure the president has reviewed it.” He pointed to Trump’s comment and said Pruitt has made “tremendous progress” at the EPA.

Shake-ups in the Trump administration have given the Senate a slate of nominees to confirm at a time when many senators have begun pivoting to the midterm elections. Senate Republican leaders are already facing potentially difficult fights to confirm Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson as secretary of veterans affairs and Gina Haspel as CIA director.

“There’s so many positions open right now in the administration, and there’s so many weeks left before we get to the midterm elections,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said on “Face The Nation.” “I think it’s going to be a challenge for us to get Cabinet-level positions confirmed, particularly one at EPA.”

Asked whether Pruitt should be fired, Cardin, like other lawmakers, said, “That’s a decision that the president is going to have to make.”