I can’t imagine how difficult it must be these days to work at the Washington Post, the New York Times, or the host of other media outlets who have been desperately looking for a way to force EPA administrator Scott Pruitt out of office. It’s not as if they haven’t put in a yeoman’s effort thus far, digging into every nook and cranny, trying to generate headlines about “scandals” on a nearly daily basis. First, there was ApartmentGate. That was followed by Hunting-For-New-ApartmentGate. Then there was Mattressgate and the infamous Chick-fil-A-FranchiseGate. And how could we possibly forget LunchGate?
To the media’s tremendous frustration, none of these “scandals” seem to have overly bothered either the EPA chief or his boss, President Trump. Pruitt stubbornly remains in office, going about his job. (Yesterday he was at Omaha’s Missouri River Wastewater Treatment Plant, working on WOTUS, water infrastructure and the Superfund program.) So what is the press corps supposed to do now?
WaPo writer Philip Bump thinks he’s come up with a solution. He starts out by discussing the “constant drumbeat of questions about his ethical behavior” (without mentioning that the “drumbeat” in question is almost entirely coming from his newspaper). If they can’t hound Pruitt into quitting or force the President to fire him, how about… impeachment? To probe that question, Bump calls upon government ethics Professor Kathleen Clark, who suggests that Pruitt’s case could be tossed to Congress.
“They can call for testimony from multiple government agency officials. They can gather information and put that information out in reports, placing political pressure on the administration or a particular agency,” she said. “They can hold up confirmation of administration nominees. They can use their appropriations power to put pressure on an agency. They have multiple tools available to them — if they have the political will.”
Then there’s what Clark called the “nuclear bomb” of congressional actions: impeachment.
In 1876, Secretary of War William Belknap was impeached by the House, according to a 2015 Congressional Research Service report, the only Cabinet official to face that punishment.
Bump seeks to buttress his charges and lend them some bipartisan weight by noting that “a conservative nonprofit is running television ads making the same demand” (that he resign). What goes unmentioned is the fact that the same “conservative nonprofit” (the American Future Fund) was running ads during the last election cycle attacking Trump University in an attempt to derail Trump’s candidacy.
Keep in mind that all of these “scandals” are being dutifully looked into by the EPA ethics office, the Inspector General and whoever else is appropriate. It’s still conceivable that they may determine that the administrator, new to Washington routines, may have spent too much money on some expenses or otherwise inadvertently offended normal beltway sensibilities. If so, Pruitt and the President can decide what, if any, recourse is appropriate. But at this point, there is nothing happening but allegations, drummed up by suddenly inquisitive media outlets who asked no such questions about his predecessors during the previous administration. And now they’re talking about impeachment.
This is a good reminder for the 2018 midterms. At the moment there is pretty much zero chance that the GOP-led House would consider impeaching Pruitt and even less that the Senate would convict him. But if the Democrats actually do muster up their “blue wave” and take back control of Congress, you’ll probably be watching one kangaroo court drama after another unfold, just as Philip Bump suggests.