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EPA Chief Worried Trump Would Be 'Abusive To The Constitution'

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told the Senate environment committee that he does not remember comments he made in 2016 about then-candidate Donald Trump.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told the Senate environment committee that he does not remember comments he made in 2016 about then-candidate Donald Trump.

In 2016, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told a radio host in Tulsa, Okla., "I believe that Donald Trump in the White House would be more abusive to the Constitution than Barack Obama, and that's saying a lot."

His comments surfaced at a routine Senate committee hearing on Tuesday, when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., read from a transcript of the interview and asked administrator Pruitt whether he remembered it. "I don't, Senator," Pruitt replied, "and I don't echo that today at all."

The interview with conservative host Pat Campbell aired on KFAQ in February 2016, when Pruitt was Oklahoma's attorney general and supported Jeb Bush's candidacy for president.

EXCERPT: Scott Pruitt on KFAQ's Pat Campbell Show Feb. 4, 2016

"If Donald Trump is the nominee and eventually the president, he would take, I think, unapologetic steps to use executive power to confront Congress in a way that is truly unconstitutional," Pruitt told Campbell.

The exchange continued:

Campbell: "I had a conversation with my dad not long ago and my dad is an immigrant. He came here as a young child after World War II. And he's not real long-winded like me. He summed up Donald Trump in one word. He said, 'He's dangerous.' "

Pruitt: "You know, your dad is very astute, because I'll say to you I think [Trump] has tendencies that we see in emerging countries around the world. He goes to the disaffected, those individuals, and says, 'Look, you give me power, and I will give voice to your concerns.' And that's a dangerous place to be."

During the interview, Pruitt repeatedly expressed concern about how Trump might use executive orders to make policy, rather than deferring to Congress.

Since taking office, President Trump has signed numerous executive orders on environmental issues, including a broad order rolling back efforts to combat climate change and others limiting environmental oversight of infrastructure projects and waterways.

Those orders have been the basis of administrator Pruitt's biggest decisions in the year since he took over the Environmental Protection Agency. His proposals to repeal the Clean Power Plan and a water protection rule called Waters of the United States are both grounded in the requirements of executive orders, not in laws passed by Congress.

And Pruitt has defended the president in more personal terms since he joined the Cabinet. After Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Pruitt called the decision "courageous."

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Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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