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Trump reassures Scott Pruitt in phone call

EPA to roll back Obama-era rules
EPA to roll back Obama-era emissions, fuel economy standards 02:43

Embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt received some words of encouragement Monday night from his boss, President Trump. The president phoned Pruitt and told him to keep his head up and to keep fighting. The message from the top: We have your back, CBS News Jacqueline Alemany reports, citing an administration official. On Tuesday morning, White House chief of staff John Kelly, followed up with another phone call reiterating the president's message.

Pruitt, who on Tuesday announced the rollback of Obama-era vehicle fuel standards, has attracted unwelcome headlines for the White House over his costly travel and the revelation that he paid $50 per night for a room in a Capitol Hill condominium owned by the wife of a lobbyist -- about $6,100 between February and June 2017. The calls from Mr. Trump and Kelly seem to refute reports that the White House wanted to fire Pruitt, but it's true that some of the publicity Pruitt has attracted is bothersome to the White House, and rumors persist.

But CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett points out that two factors are working in Pruitt's favor right now: fear of a massive confirmation battle and Pruitt's track record.

The White House is already facing three major confirmations: Mike Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, Gina Haspel, who's stepping into Pompeo's former job of CIA director, and Ronny Jackson to replace David Shulkin as veterans affairs secretary. The administration is somewhat leery about a fourth. A fight over Pruitt's replacement would be time-consuming and difficult, adding to the burden on the White House.

Another factor to consider is that conservatives like and want to protect Pruitt -- he's been aggressive about rescinding Obama regulations that industry abhors, and he shows no indication that he's slowing down. And available replacements with strong conservative backing are scant. The White House is also wary of further aggravating conservatives after signing a deficit-heavy spending bill and prompting concerns about a perceived drift in immigration. The White House is trying to motivate the base for the midterm elections, and it's possible that firing Pruitt could do the opposite. 

During a meeting with with Baltic leaders at the White House Tuesday, the president was asked by reporters whether he still supports Pruitt. 

"I hope he's going to be great," Trump replied.  

But Pruitt probably shouldn't get too comfortable -- as a top Trump adviser told Garrett, "Bad press only lasts so long. Then they fire you. Trump hates bad press. Unless he generates it."   

CBS News' Major Garrett, Jacqueline Alemany and Katiana Krawchenko contributed to this report.

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