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Week In Politics: Tariffs And Pruitt


Embattled, besieged, under fire - no matter how news organizations are putting it, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is having a bad week. The White House maintains Pruitt is doing a good job, but it's hard to figure out which revelation has been most damaging, including reports he rented a room from a lobbyist but fell behind on the below-market rent. And now the Associated Press has reported Pruitt has spent millions on travel and security, far more than his predecessor. That - we have the chaotic rhetoric of a trade skirmish, and next week, Mark Zuckerberg heads to Congress. Senior Washington correspondent Ron Elving is here to wrap it all up. Hey, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

DETROW: You know, we could do one of our 45-minute podcasts on all of this, but here it's just a few minutes.

ELVING: We'll do the best we can.

DETROW: We'll try. Let's start with Pruitt. Many people were surprised to see him last through the day Friday when so many Trump administration officials had been removed on Friday afternoons. How are things looking right now for the EPA administrator?

ELVING: Most people would be surprised that he had - he would've survived this week. The president himself is describing Pruitt in a tweet as totally besieged - capital totally. And the two had a sit-down at the White House yesterday. The meeting has been confirmed to NPR by the White House. But the White House also insists that that meeting was strictly about fuel efficiency standards and stuff like that. Still, the buzz around town, as you say, is about Pruitt living large in D.C. with a 20-person security crew and reports in the media about private jet service and of course the cushy and rather curious condo arrangements that you described with the lobbyist couple and, you know, soundproof telephone booths and so on.

DETROW: Is it getting harder for President Trump to find replacements for these jobs that keep coming open?

ELVING: No question. You can't keep firing people and have people eager to come fill those roles, in some instances. And he can't really fire Scott Pruitt until he's got at least some idea of a successor. Yesterday, though, there was a letter delivered from the leaders of 10 conservative organizations urging the president and thanking the president for keeping Scott Pruitt in place as long as he has. Now, some of these were Tea Party groups, also some social conservatives, not just the fossil fuel folks by any means. And they say that the ethical lapses in the press aren't important compared to Scott Pruitt's actions on energy and environment, which they love as much as the environmental activists and protesters of climate change hate.

DETROW: You know, there had been a lot of speculation that Pruitt could be the person to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who we know President Trump has had a lot of frustration with. Can we read anything into the sudden storm that blew up around Pruitt when it comes to that speculation?

ELVING: It's been several weeks since that rumor first began - not entirely clear where it came from. But Pruitt did want to be an attorney general again, and that is the indication. That's what he was in Oklahoma. Plus, it seems that he was kind of suggesting that he would be a person who would be free of the constraints that have kept Jeff Sessions from dealing with the special prosecutor in the way that perhaps President Trump would like him to do. So at this point, however, it seems pretty unlikely that Pruitt would be promoted and A.G. is a more prestigious job, so much so really that the president himself mocked that notion in a tweet last week.

DETROW: Last question, Ron - next week, Mark Zuckerberg is testifying before Congress. For so long, politicians have wanted that buddy-buddy relationship with Silicon Valley. That moment really seems over, doesn't it?

ELVING: It does. It seems the bloom is off that rose now that Congress is worried and the country is worried about just how much Facebook knows and with whom Facebook is sharing what it knows.

DETROW: Ron, always great to talk to you. Thanks so much. That's senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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