EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been embroiled in so many ethical scandals, from the ridiculous—having a government employee drive him from one Ritz-Carlton to another in search of his favorite hand lotion—to the seriously swampy—using staff to try to get his wife a job—that even some conservatives are calling him out and demanding that he go. But Pruitt may have a trump card, so to speak, in the support he gets from the president’s most important constituency: the Religious Right.
At last week’s Road to Majority conference, organized by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, Reed called Pruitt “a dear friend of faith and freedom” and promised his support:
You know, I know the left and the media like to go after this man. But the other day at a Cabinet meeting President Trump turned to him and said, ‘Scott, I want you to know, we’ve got your back. And you’re doing a great job.’ And we’ve got his back as well.
In his introduction, Reed reminded activists that Pruitt worked on religious liberty issues with the Rutherford Institute, which Reed described as a forerunner to today’s Religious Right legal groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom. Reed praised Pruitt for his record as Oklahoma’s attorney general, when he sued the EPA 14 times, and said he has brought “sanity” to an agency Reed said had been notorious for regulatory overreach.
Pruitt began his remarks picking up on the religious liberty theme, praising the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of the no-wedding-cakes-for-gay-couples baker. Pruitt recycled the Religious Right claims that liberals want to define religious freedom down so that it protects freedom of worship and nothing else. Describing a mission trip he took to Romania several years ago, where he talked about the experience of the church under Communism, Pruitt said the left in the U.S. wants to silence Christians in similar ways:
There are some in this country today that look at the issue of religious liberty, they look at the issue of free exercise of religion in the same way. They believe that we have a right to exercise our religious beliefs within the four walls of the church. But when we actually go out in the public square, when we advance truth, when we actually confront the culture with the truths of scripture outside the four walls of the church, then that’s where they say it has to stop.
Thank goodness that we have a president, thank goodness that we have a leader of this country, who stands unapologetically for religious liberty, who’s willing to put on the Supreme Court people like Justice Gorsuch to say, ‘We are going to stand for free exercise of religion and the First Amendment in the United States, of this country.’
Pruitt talked about the “great” and “transformational” changes taking place in the EPA and the country, thanks to his and Trump’s leadership. These changes are “going to impact generations into the future.” Making so much change generates challenges from those who want to protect the status quo, he said:
I mean, the left doesn’t want to talk about truth. The left doesn’t want to talk about results. They just want to shout. They just want to try and intimidate, as opposed to talk about what’s being done in this administration.
Pruitt insisted that the old regulatory regime was caught in the “false choice” of generating jobs or protecting the environment, saying that under Trump, America’s economy is growing while the air and water continues to get cleaner.
Pruitt cited scripture in support of his approach to environmental stewardship and asked for the activists’ continued support for the Trump administration’s efforts, saying America is a blessed country that can be a beacon to the rest of the world:
Now I believe that to whom much is given, much is required. And I believe this nation has been blessed with enormous natural resources. And we have an obligation to feed the world, and we have an obligation to power the world. And God has given us those resources, and we should do what with them? Use them for the betterment of mankind, and also, do so with stewardship mentality going forward. …
I appreciate what you do. I appreciate your encouragement. I appreciate your support. And I just pray as we gather and we go out from here that we continue to advance the message of religious liberty, of free exercise of freedom generally, but recognizing the choices we’re making today are transformational for the future.
Pruitt made a similar speech at last week’s Western Conservative Summit.