Scott Pruitt is back, baby—and as unpopular as ever. Trump’s former EPA administrator, who was forced to resign after just a year and a half in power, announced on Friday that he intends to run for a special election for U.S. Senate in Oklahoma this year. Reportedly, no one—even his former colleagues—is very excited about this. Sad for Scott!
In case you need a reminder, Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA was riddled by some of the weirdest scandals of the Trump administration. In addition to a long list of ridiculous expenses—including billing up more than $832,000 for round-the-clock security during the first three months of his tenure, spending $43,000 on a soundproof room in his office, and spending thousands of dollars on first-class flights—Pruitt also demanded his security team drive him around Washington, D.C. to find his favorite lotion (from the Ritz-Carlton, natch), as well as enlisting an aide to try and buy a used mattress (??) from the Trump International Hotel (???). He also finagled a pretty sweet deal to rent a bedroom on Capitol Hill for just $50 a night—way below market rate—from the wife of a fossil fuel lobbyist, while also reportedly using sirens and flashing lights to get around the city quicker (a perk usually reserved for the president). Totally normal stuff!
As funny as all his shenanigans were, they shouldn’t detract from remembering just how much of a mess Pruitt caused during his scant year and a half in charge. Pruitt, who had deep ties to (and thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from) the fossil fuel industry, was, after all, chosen by Trump to act as a sort of bull in a china shop when it came to environmental policy, and he performed beautifully. From filling scientific advisory boards with industry hacks, to lying about climate change on national television, to weakening scientific rules that protected communities of color from pollution, to rolling back crucial emissions regulations in power plants and autos—Pruitt did it all and more.
Incredibly, Pruitt is putting his hat in the game to replace not just any old senator, but climate denial hall-of-famer Jim Inhofe, who famously brought a snowball onto the floor of the Senate to demonstrate how climate change isn’t real (okay). The 87-year-old Inhofe, who has served in the Senate for more than 20 years, announced in February that he will retire at the end of this year, four years before his term officially ends, triggering a special election. Pruitt picked several ex-Inhofe staffers to serve in the EPA with him; he also wasn’t shy about his ambitions to run for office while he was working at EPA. It makes sense that he’s now gunning to replace his denier role model, scandals be damned, and make sure that dirty interests keep having a voice in the Senate (the oil and gas industry has been Inhofe’s top campaign contributor over the course of his career, kicking him more than $2.3 million). Pruitt has already made some inroads with industry power players, reportedly reaching out to two coal CEOs in recent weeks for support. (The race to replace Inhofe is already pretty crowded, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who has announced he will run for the seat, has already got more than $80,000 from the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions for this election cycle alone, so the industry can probably rest assured that it’ll stay well-represented.)
But all this doesn’t necessarily mean that Pruitt will succeed in getting his foot in the Senate door. E&E reported last month that Pruitt isn’t exactly popular with his old colleagues and folks in Oklahoma, thanks in part to the trail of scandals he left in his wake when he exited Washington, D.C. in 2018 after Trump asked for his resignation. The E&E piece is filled with some pretty scathing quotes from anonymous and on-the-record sources alike, which I’ll just list here for catharsis purposes:
- “Inhofe never put himself before the people — Pruitt failed to learn that lesson. …Pruitt is just an unhelpful distraction [in the Senate race].”
- “Does he really have that little self-awareness?”
- “It’s hard to describe how nuts he is and narcissistic and selfish. I think he’s stirring the pot and planting this stuff because literally no one is talking about him.”
- “There’s nothing that could fix that amount of delusion.”
Yikes! And that’s to say nothing of the opinion of the man himself: “I’m not his biggest fan,” Inhofe told reporters of Pruitt in March. Give me a second to bust out the world’s smallest violin for our dear pal Scott.