South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds on Sunday defended embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, saying much of the criticism of Pruitt is fueled by people upset by his policies.
Pruitt has been under intense fire in recent days after a series of media reports exposed he rented a cut-rate condo from the wife of an energy lobbyist, routinely flew first class at taxpayer expense, expanded his security detail and pushed back-door raises for two top officials.
“I don’t know how much of it is overblown and how much of it is accurate, to be honest,” Rounds said on NBC’s Meet The Press.
“Look, the reason why, the reason why all of the emphasis right now is on Mr. Pruitt is because he is executing these policies and they’re not real popular policies with a lot of people.”
Pruitt made a similar case during a withering interview with Fox News last week. But his answers during that sit-down appeared to raise more questions.
The former Oklahoma attorney general denied pushing the raises for the two officials who followed him to the EPA from Oklahoma, even though reports found the agency got the pay boosts by circumventing the White House and using an obscure provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act that allows the EPA administrator hiring flexibility.
Pruitt suggested the lobbyist whose wife rented him the $50 a night condo — well below market rates — had been a friend for years, but the lobbyist suggested they were only casual acquaintances.
In the past week, three Republican members of Congress have said he should step down. On Friday White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said officials were reviewing the situation. According to the Wall Street Journal, even White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told President Trump Pruitt had to go.
But Pruitt received a key public boost Saturday from Trump himself, who signaled in a tweet that he was inclined to keep Pruitt.
“While Security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA,” he wrote. “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 on Sunday called the concerns about Pruitt “nitpicks.”
“We’ll nitpick little things: he has too many people on his security detail, it may add up to more than what the previous guy did,” he said. “But what about the big picture of how he’s taking care of …the taxpayer’s dollars with the department, the EPA. And what about the regulations that he said he’s going to clean up on that he is…."
"Remember this president said, number one we have to have tax policy. We’ve got it. We said we had to have regulatory reform. We’ve got it. Scott Pruitt is a big part of that, he’s executing what the president wants him to execute.”