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Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images

As ethics controversies continue to swirl around EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, many observers in Washington are wondering how long he might be able to hang onto his job.

The view from the West Wing: Axios' Jonathan Swan spoke with sources close to President Trump and this basic picture emerged: If nothing else bad comes out against Pruitt, they’ll probably ride through the storm with him. But should more damaging stories surface — especially ones that demonstrate poor ethical judgement — Pruitt could be abandoned in a flash. Trump is uneasy about the situation, and has his finger in the wind.

"Not" cool: ICYMI, when asked yesterday whether President Trump is OK with Pruitt's $50-per-night deal last year for the room in a condo owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders replied, "The President is not."

  • "We’re reviewing the situation. When we have had a chance to have a deeper dive on it, we’ll let you know the outcomes of that," she said at a briefing yesterday.
  • Why it matters: It showed the White House going public with its widely reported concerns about Pruitt, who faces questions and bad headlines around the condo deal as well as controversial raises for top aides.

About those raises: As Axios' Haley Britzky noted yesterday, Pruitt said in a Fox News interview Wednesday that he just learned of big pay raises for two aides that came to Washington with him:

  • “I found out this yesterday and I corrected the action and we are in the process of finding out how it took place and correcting it."
  • The intrigue: That follows a report in The Atlantic that "Pruitt ordered" the pay boosts — $28,130 and $56,765 — for the two aides using special authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act after the White House rejected the request. EPA did not provide comment.

Pruitt's allies push back: More via Swan, who reports that Pruitt’s allies are back-channeling several messages to Trump in a bid to save the EPA chief, including:

  • Don’t let the left take down Pruitt. This is really about ideology, and people on the left who don’t like his aggressive moves to unwind regulations.
  • Firing Pruitt would bring endless trouble. Pruitt's backers say the left — and they lump the mainstream press into that category — won’t be satisfied if Pruitt goes. They’ll just move onto the next cabinet secretary.

A reality check: Per Swan, White House officials he's spoken with have little patience for those defenses of Pruitt. They blame him and him alone for his ethical missteps, particularly the condo.

  • And White House sources are hearing rumors from colleagues in the administration that there’s more to come. If there are legitimately bad facts still unreported, it’s hard to see how he survives.

Late-breaking: CNN reported last night that the EPA's top ethics official, who had previously signed off on Pruitt's condo situation, "clarified his earlier analysis of whether . . . Pruitt's rental arrangement broke the federal gift rule, saying he didn't have all the facts when evaluating the lease."

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

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