A Democratic senator is calling for Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to step down over social media activity that included interactions with a racist meme and conspiracy mongers.
Sen. Jeff Merkley( D-Ore .) said in a tweet Tuesday that Wheeler should “do the right thing” and “resign immediately” just hours after HuffPost reported that the EPA chief engaged with inflammatory content on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts.
In a statement on Tuesday, Wheeler said he did not recollect liking an image of former President obama and first lady Michelle Obama staring at a white person’s hand holding a banana. He admitted recirculating and liking tweets from right-wing radicals and notorious conspiracy theorists, but said he agreed with the content of the posts and had not reviewed the sources.
“Over the years, I have been a prolific social media user and liked and unwittingly liked countless social media posts, ” Wheeler told HuffPost by email.
In a Wednesday evening interview with HuffPost, Merkley said Wheeler’s social media activity casts an ugly new light on his efforts to roll back power plant regulations, which would disproportionately increase health risks for communities of colour.
Still, the senator said he doesn’t expect the dispute to snowball into the storm of criticism that engulfed Scott Pruitt, the former EPA administrator who resigned amid mounting ethics investigations in July.
“We’re in a strange world now where the example set at the top with President Trump is so egregious that it decreases the bandwidth of attention paid to Cabinet members, ” Merkley said by phone. “It took an exceptional list of things to set Scott Pruitt’s job at risk.”
Nonetheless, “Trump should definitely be calling out Wheeler for this sort of racist action, ” said Merkley.
The White House did not respond to requests for remark Tuesday about the senator’s criticism of Wheeler. The EPA declined to comment.