Fake news, or just a little early? Faced with an avalanche of negative stories, Scott Pruitt has gone on a media offensive this week, including an interview with Jazz Shaw on Wednesday, answering critics over questionable travel and staffing decisions. One White House source tells the Wall Street Journal that John Kelly has pushed Donald Trump to boot Pruitt out of his EPA Administrator post, but that so far Trump’s not budging:
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told President Donald Trump last week that he is convinced Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt needs to step down after a series of negative reports about his spending habits and management style, a White House official said Friday.
Though Mr. Kelly and other White House aides have concluded Mr. Pruitt should leave, the president is not ready to fire him, the official said. Mr. Trump welcomes the deregulatory measures taken by Mr. Pruitt and also values him as a strong advocate for the president’s agenda, this person said.
If it’s true, it’s not working … at least not yet. Less than three hours before the WSJ reported this, Trump took to Twitter to blast other “fake news” about Pruitt. Does this sound like a man contemplating a termination?
Do you believe that the Fake News Media is pushing hard on a story that I am going to replace A.G. Jeff Sessions with EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, who is doing a great job but is TOTALLY under siege? Do people really believe this stuff? So much of the media is dishonest and corrupt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 6, 2018
That doesn’t make the WSJ report “fake news,” though. Given the media avalanche on Pruitt, conventional wisdom would lead most advisors to cut losses. It’s certainly possible that John Kelly and others in the White House might see these stories as political baggage that Trump doesn’t need and see a Cabinet member as expendable under the circumstances. In fact, it might be strange if no one suggested the possibility to Trump, and it might be why the press office fumbled a bit on the question of Trump’s confidence in Pruitt yesterday.
That doesn’t mean he’ll take the advice, though, and the tweet makes it seem clear that Trump has rejected it. Of course, people will point to the abrupt departures of Rex Tillerson and David Shulkin and denials of their endangered status to argue that a Pruitt firing may well be imminent. There are a couple of key differences, however.
The first and lesser difference is the emphasis of Trump’s defense of Pruitt. When the rumors about Tillerson began, Trump wrote them off as “fake news” and said they were working well together, but noted differences too. Trump hardly said anything about Shulkin toward the end. In this case, though, Trump practically hugs Pruitt as a fellow victim of “fake news,” calling him “TOTALLY under siege.”
Second, it was no surprise that Tillerson and Shulkin never did fully align with Trump’s views on policies in their purview. Tillerson was trying to preserve the Iran deal, and Shulkin was trying to prevent broader choice at the VA. Their departures were all but inevitable. Pruitt, on the other hand, aligns completely with Trump on EPA policy, and has been enthusiastic about enacting the Trump agenda. If he pushed Pruitt out, would Trump find someone as enthusiastic who could get through a Senate confirmation? That seems highly unlikely.
Of course, we haven’t seen the end of the Pruitt siege either, and Trump could change his mind as the facts change. As it stands, though, if Kelly really does want Pruitt out, he’s likely to be disappointed for some time to come.