The Pruitt Watch (#WhatTheyVotedFor)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Skyhobo, 2009)

Miserable: Jonathan Swan offers a glimpse “Inside Scott Pruitt’s ‘miserable’ bunker”, and what is unbelievable about the article is that it might be written at all. Starting with the incendiary report from The Atlantic about intracabinet political attacks and the typical Axios brief on “why this matters”—approximately that for whatever reasons, Administrator Pruitt still has his job—but then lays an ugly string of points from “behind the scenes”, starting with the idea that EPA senior staff apparently being surprised by a photo of the Administrator at lunch with “members of his team” emerging in a lobbyist’s tweet.

Gravity is gravity; the slope is uncertain, but something about downhill goes here.

• Over the last few months, Pruitt has walled himself off from all but five EPA political appointees: ​Millan Hupp, Sarah Greenwalt, Hayley Ford, Lincoln Ferguson, and Wilcox. Of those five, only Wilcox is over 30. Hupp, Greenwalt and Ferguson came with Pruitt from Oklahoma. Wilcox is the only press aide Pruitt appears to trust.

• Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, runs the agency’s operations but rarely knows where his boss is. Pruitt has frozen Jackson out of his inner circle—a disaster for a chief of staff. Pruitt and Jackson don’t trust each other, multiple sources told me.

• “All of us have been frozen out over time,” one EPA political appointee told me. “It’s absolutely unreal working here. Everyone’s miserable. Nobody talks. It’s a dry wall prison.”

And the band plays on as EPA tumbles down the rabbit hole: “Pruitt never trusted the EPA’s career staff”, writes Swan, and the understatement about the sentence is nearly unavoidable; the point is highlight the Administrator having “frozen out” political appointees as administrative paranoia apparently grows and staff morale similarly continues its plummet.

There is, as the article notes, some pushback; spokesman Jahan Wilcoxα, explained that particular morning meetings “had grown unwieldy”, given that ninety-eight people were invited. Still, the report suggests Pruitt cut the meeting to ten people, yet still those gatherings “grew rare over the winter”. Meanwhile, the senior political hands are so unable to track their boss’ doings, “They scan Twitter and the news to try to keep tabs on him”. The Axios report further notes senior “staff outside his inner circle have had virtually no idea of his whereabouts” since answering Congress in two sessions in late April, and it seems well enough to recall, in the moment, how poorly that show went, and perhaps wonder, at least rhetorically, about Agency morale. Or, as Politico summarized:

Scott Pruitt may have handled his daylong congressional grilling well enough to salvage his job for now—but only after he blamed his torrent of scandals on staff, disavowed one of his top advisers and raised new questions about what he knew about massive raises awarded to some of his closest aides.

And it does seem salient to recall that Administrator Pruitt declared before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment last month, “Let me be very clear: I have nothing to hide as its relates to how I’ve run the agency for the past 16 months”.

Fulfilling two criteria can make this either true, not entirely untrue, or, at the least, within the range of proper alternative facts: First, Mr. Pruitt believes he has nothing to hide because he would not necessarily know if he does. Next, Mr. Pruitt believes he has nothing to hide because he does not care so much that people witness his behavior, but, rather, considers the problem to be anyone who would describe his behavior in any manner that might disagree with his personal aesthetics and interests. We might read a hint from Swan, that—

• The leadership in Pruitt’s congressional affairs shop have complained to associates that they can’t do their jobs. They’ve griped about complaints from members of Congress when the members find out after the fact that Pruitt has visited their state or congressional district. The embarrassing reality for Pruitt’s legislative affairs team is they had no idea either.

—and we should remember this sounds about right for a member of the political party wont to argue that government does not and cannot work, and there is also the point about former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt having sued the EPA fourteen times; nor is there any mystery about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s appointment, which, as Rolling Stone reported nearly a year ago, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune called “the exact opposite of the EPA’s mission”, and policy execution that is, according to an EPA staffer, “a giant fuck you to our mission”. Nonetheless, as the Axios report continues, spokesman Wilcox responded that Pruitt has appeared with members of Congress twice in recent months, which ought to make some manner of point by its pointlessness.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, on Capitol Hill, 26 April 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)Gravity, indeed; it is notable that what is notable is most notable for the notable context of its notability. More directly, Swan also reports the Administrator’s near-absence over the prior week, confirming by two sources an earlier media report that Pruitt “has been planning to set up an external legal defense fund”. It seems reasonable to speculate the point of this is in order to prove the EPA boss has nothing to hide.

And in the question of the Pruitt Watch, itself, Swan also summarizes other Axios reporting about the state of the Agency, “that the EPA’s policy trains appear to be running on track, largely due to key leadership positions being filled”. This is, of course, a swirl of implications. To the one, “policy teams operate mostly separate from the political appointees”, meaning day-to-day operations continue except when specifically disrupted by the Administrator; to the other, “nobody in the White House disputes that Pruitt’s EPA has achieved major regulatory rollbacks”, which in our moment points back to the question of purpose, the second criterion about not caring about being seen wrecking the place but instead resenting criticism thereof. The other big question is that next in line at EPA is a “longtime Washington lobbyist” expected to continue wrecking the place, and should that not be problematic enough in terms of winning confirmation for a new Administrator, this is also the Trump administration, and cabinet confirmation prospects are extraordinarily complicated, at present, to say the least.

Scott Pruitt is emblematic of the Trump administration and its political support. The corrupt ruination of government is precisely #WhatTheyVotedFor.

____________________

α Whose predecessor, Liz Bowman, just departed last week, amid suggestions ranging between family concerns and the more obvious, while not preclusive of such, having broken herself trying to fend off Pruitt scandals.

Image notes: Top—Headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Skyhobo, 2009)  Right—Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, on Capitol Hill, 26 April 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images).

Adranga, Anthony, Annie Snider, and Alex Guillén. “Pruitt dodges blame”. Politico. 26 April 2018.

Goodell, Jeff. “Scott Pruitt’s Crimes Against Nature”. Rolling Stone. 27 July 2017.

The New York Times. “Pruitt v. EPA: 14 Challenges of EPA Rules by the Oklahoma Attorney General”. 14 January 2017.

Swan, Jonathan. “Inside Scott Pruitt’s ‘miserable’ bunker”. Axios. 6 May 2018.

See also:

Plott, Elaina. “A Pruitt Aide’s Attack on Zinke Angers the White House”. The Atlantic. 3 May 2018.

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