WASHINGTON ― Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) called for Scott Pruitt’s resignation this week, becoming the first Republicans to demand the embattled Environmental Protection Agency administrator step down amid growing controversy over his spending and ties to lobbyists.
In a tweet, Curbelo said Pruitt’s “corruption scandals are an embarrassment,” and urged President Donald Trump to fire the nation’s top environmental regulator if he does not quit.
Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring from Congress this year, echoed Curbelo.
“When scandals and distractions overtake a public servant’s ability to function effectively, another person should fill that role,” the congresswoman said in a statement provided to HuffPost.
Stefanik, in a comment Thursday to The Daily Beast, called for Pruitt to step down.
“Congresswoman Stefanik believes it’s in the best interest of the EPA for Mr. Pruitt to resign,” a spokesperson said. “She will continue to be a strong advocate in Congress for environmental issues that affect our district, which is the proud home of the Adirondacks.”
Curbelo is one of the most vulnerable House Republicans running for re-election this cycle ― former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won his majority-Latino district by 16 points in the 2016 election ― and he has said he’d welcome Trump’s help ahead of the 2018 midterms. Curbelo is up just five points over likely Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, according to a survey the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released this week.
Curbelo, widely considered one of the GOP’s few hawkish voices on climate change, has been critical of Pruitt. In March 2017, he called Pruitt’s denial of carbon emissions’ impact on climate change “reckless,” and urged the administrator to “come to South Florida to see” firsthand the effects of sea-level rise.
Curbelo’s comments about Pruitt, one day after the EPA unveiled the administration’s plan to roll back Obama-era vehicle emissions rules, demonstrates how quickly the latest accusations of corruption against the administrator have spun out of control.
Pruitt’s housing in Washington came under scrutiny last week after ABC News reported that he rented a room in a luxury condominium co-owned by the wife of a top gas industry lobbyist. Pruitt paid $50 per night, a sweetheart deal well below the market rate for an upscale Capitol Hill townhouse. The EPA’s Office of General Counsel quickly issued a memo endorsing the rate, but the agency’s ethics lawyer struggled to defend Pruitt’s adult daughter’s use of another room at the residence.
Curbelo did not return a request for an interview on Tuesday afternoon.
Asked to comment on Curbelo’s remarks about Pruitt, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox sent a statement defending the administrator’s rental.
“As EPA career ethics officials stated in a memo, Administrator Pruitt’s housing arrangement for both himself and family was not a gift and the lease was consistent with federal ethics regulations,” the statement said.
The controversy comes after months of criticism over Pruitt’s spending on first-class flights and luxury hotels, including $2,600 airfare to Oklahoma, a $120,000 trip to Italy and a $40,000 visit to Morocco to promote liquefied natural gas, a questionable responsibility for an EPA administrator to take on.
Few other Republicans have publicly called on Pruitt to step down. A spokesperson for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who also represents a district in southern Florida, did not immediately return a request for comment.
However, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who outlasted the “Bridgegate” scandal that thwarted his presidential ambitions, on Sunday said he was concerned about the ethics of Pruitt’s rental.
“I don’t know how you survive this one, and if he has to go, it’s because he never should have been there in the first place,” Christie said on ABC News’ “This Week.”
Trump reportedly phoned Pruitt on Monday evening and told him to “keep your head up” and “keep fighting.” In a meeting with leaders of Baltic nations at the White House on Tuesday, Trump said, “I hope he’s going to be great.”
Democrats, meanwhile, are calling on Pruitt to resign “immediately.”
“It is long past time for Scott Pruitt’s tenure to end. From cozying up to industry insiders, to wasting taxpayer dollars and breaking ethical norms, Americans cannot trust Pruitt and he should resign immediately,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.
The Senate confirmed Pruitt last year by a vote of 52-46. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, two vulnerable Democrats who are up for re-election this year in states Trump won in 2016, joined nearly every Republican in voting to approve Pruitt’s nomination.
Neither Manchin’s spokesperson nor Heitkamp’s spokesperson immediately responded to a request for comment about whether the senators thought Pruitt should step down.
This article has been updated to include comments from the EPA, Ros-Lehtinen and Stefanik.