A small but growing group of Republicans lawmakers have lost patience with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s first-class flying habits.
Pruitt’s “blanket waiver" to fly in first- or business-class whenever he travels — first reported Tuesday by POLITICO — is rankling some members of Congress who squeeze themselves into coach for flights to and from Washington nearly every weekend. EPA says unspecified security concerns require the luxury accommodations for Pruitt, but the hefty price tag of his taxpayer-funded travel is getting to be too much for some GOP lawmakers.
“I would be embarrassed to get on a plane, sit down in first class and have my constituents pass me by and see me in first class," said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). "I just think all Cabinet secretaries and all of us ought to fly coach.”
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) told POLITICO that a coach-class seat "would be sufficient" Pruitt.
“I’m always hauling my bags onto the plane every weekend,” she said.
The mounting criticism comes as Pruitt took a first-class seat on a flight to Boston Tuesday and after FOIA records showed he spent more than $1,600 on a flight from Washington to New York in June 2017. And CBS News reported Tuesday the EPA chief spent $7,000 on an Emirates Airlines return flight from Italy in June.
“Due to security reasons, he has a blanket waiver to buy business- or first-class,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.
Pruitt says his security detail decides what type of ticket he gets.
“I’m not involved in any of those decisions. Those are all made by the [security] detail, the security assessment in addition to the chief of staff,” he told the New Hampshire Union Leader Tuesday.
EPA’s inspector general is already reviewing Pruitt’s travel history for the entirety of 2017, though it said in a Jan. 10 letter obtained by POLITICO that the office “will not further extend or expand the scope of our review.”
Other Republicans urged the administration to ensure proper stewardship of taxpayer funds without directly criticizing Pruitt’s travel arrangements.
“Whether we are members of Congress or members of the Cabinet, I think we’ve got responsibility that when we’re traveling on government business that we make sure we’re being responsible with those dollars,” Senate Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told POLITICO.
And Pruitt’s preference for first-class taste was endorsed by at least one lawmaker who said he always flies coach himself.
“We can all second-guess whether he should be in first-class or if he should be in coach, but I can tell if you’re actually going to get some work done on a long flight there’s a whole lot of people that would agree you’re probably going to get more work done if you’re not in the middle seat,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told POLITICO.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said travel decisions were “all contextual.” Asked if $1,600 for a brief shuttle flight from Washington to New York seemed appropriate, he said “it’s all contextual.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said he looked forward to reviewing that report but called into question why Pruitt’s security needs seemed so much greater than those of previous EPA chiefs.
“I find it pretty hard to understand how Administrator Pruitt can spend millions of dollars on things for himself, like a soundproof phone booth and luxury travel perks, while slashing the budget for programs that keep the air and water clean for America’s kids,” Udall said in a statement.