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Title:'It could be pretty painful' when Pruitt faces Congress
Published:02 May 2018
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When Scott Pruitt returns to Capitol Hill on Thursday, he will find few friends ready to greet him — and an audience of one waiting to determine his fate.

Republicans say they aren’t going to give the Environmental Protection Agency chief a free pass on accusations of lavish spending, a sweetheart condo lease and luxe air travel during a pair of high-stakes hearings. Since Pruitt’s previous appearance on Capitol Hill in January, he has faced an avalanche of damaging headlines and investigations that have alienated much of the White House and raised questions about his future leading the agency.

President Donald Trump has so far stuck by Pruitt. But the biggest test for the media-obsessed president may be how Pruitt fares in front of the cameras — only three weeks after he drew poor reviews for a combative interview with Fox News’ Ed Henry.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore). said Pruitt will receive a “cordial reception, but he’s got some tough questions to answer.”

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill)., whose subcommittee will be Pruitt’s first stop Thursday, said the administrator should expect a “cool” reception from Republicans — who still strongly support his work to pare back EPA rules.

“It could be pretty painful, but when you accept the position of a senior administrator in a federal agency you’ve got to expect [that],” Shimkus, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee, told Politico. “You’ve just to grin and bear it and get through it.”

Pruitt has few allies left in the White House, apart from the president himself. Senior administration aides characterized the hearings as potential make-or-break moments for Pruitt but said it’s ultimately up to the president as to whether the White House wants to tolerate Pruitt’s bad press.

Trump is largely keeping Pruitt around because he appreciates Pruitt’s hard-charging agenda and because the White House does not want to go through another bruising confirmation battle over another Republican to lead EPA, according to senior administration officials and Republicans close to the White House. Already the White House expended great political energy this week on its pick for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, a former congressman whom the White House views as eminently qualified but who is barely expected to squeak through the Senate confirmation process.

Most important, the president fears that dumping Pruitt would anger conservatives.

“The president is always nervous about offending his base, and Pruitt has real support in the base,” said one Republican close to the White House. “If that base diminishes, he does not have a chance of being reelected. He generally likes what Pruitt is doing over there, but he has no relationship with Pruitt of any note. He could get someone else.”

When asked at the White House briefing on Wednesday about Pruitt’s spending and potential ethical violations, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would only say: “We are evaluating these concerns, and we expect the EPA administrator to answer for them.”

Pruitt’s waning support among White House aides has been months in the making. And at this point, many administration officials say they are tired of the terrible headlines and consider the allegations about Pruitt a nonstop swirl of distractions. It’s not just Pruitt’s handling of the questions that has irked White House officials but the facts themselves about the way he’s led the EPA and run his own staff.

Over the past year, Pruitt has also alienated members of the communications team, National Economic Council, and Cabinet Affairs in various fights over policy like the Paris climate deal, messaging over policy rollouts, and spending decisions at the EPA. Another Republican close to the White House said Pruitt has earned a reputation among White House aides as “high maintenance.”

The White House was not involved in helping to prepare Pruitt for the two Hill hearings on Thursday.

Shimkus predicted the toughest questions would come from the other side of the aisle.

"We need to make sure that we understand and recognize the valid, valid concerns that are out there on policy and administrative activity," he said. "But I don't think we'll be gouging his eyes out either — I think we'll have other folks that'll do that."

Some Pruitt supporters say he should be judged on his overall tenure.

“It should be based on his past performance, not necessarily standing in front of a microphone,” House Natural Resourc