But apparently he liked it too much, and the White House asked him to please eat elsewhere sometimes.
In response to Pruitt’s recurring use of the restaurant next to the Situation Room in the basement of the West Wing, a member of the White House’s Cabinet affairs team told agency chiefs of staff in a meeting last year that Cabinet members shouldn’t treat the mess as their personal dining hall, according to three people with knowledge of the issue.
The message was clear, according to one person close to Pruitt: “We love having Mr. Pruitt, but it’s not meant for everyday use.” Another person added that the White House asked Cabinet members to visit the mess only occasionally because there are few tables available.
A renovation to update the West Wing HVAC last August included the mess kitchen and may have limited space, one person said. The renovation came shortly after the president tapped John Kelly as chief of staff, and he implemented several day-to-day changes to bring order to the White House.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment and EPA declined to comment. Pruitt’s allies privately disputed that the warning about overuse of the mess was aimed squarely at him, but nobody contests that he’s a frequent presence at the White House for lunch.
Pruitt has been known to complain that EPA headquarters has no cafeteria of its own and no private dining quarters, according to multiple sources, who said Pruitt still often heads to the White House for lunch. One source said EPA officials called the White House to explain that Pruitt didn’t have a place to eat at EPA and would like to continue to visit. Pruitt’s EPA office is only a few blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
A billing statement from July 2017 offered a glimpse into Pruitt’s use of the mess, showing the EPA chief or people linked to him dined at the mess at least nine times that month, racking up a bill of $400, a relative bargain in downtown Washington. Pruitt and his guests dined on dishes like “cowboy” skirt steak, popcorn chicken and waffles, spinach strawberry salad and beer-braised brisket tacos.
While the food is considered to be top-notch, the prices are a real bargain. Skirt steak runs just $10.25, while coriander beef kabobs were just $11.95 each. And a cheeseburger runs just $6.35, according to his bill. The burger at another of Pruitt’s haunts, French bistro Le Diplomate, runs $17.
Records obtained through a Sierra Club Freedom of Information Act request also show Pruitt often sought to bring friends from Oklahoma to the White House mess.
Five friends from Tulsa – Charlie Polston, Carlyn Mattox, David Mattox, Bob Wagoner and Jerry Dillon – were invited for a September lunch there with him, though it didn’t appear in Pruitt’s detailed calendar obtained through FOIA.
That lunch came just two weeks after Pruitt made a lunch date there with Bob Funk, a wealthy Oklahoma Republican with whom he bought a major stake in the minor league Oklahoma City RedHawks baseball team back in 2003.
“Please have Mr. Funk arrive at EPA building at 11:40am to ride with Administrator Pruitt to the WH,” Lincoln Ferguson, a senior adviser for public affairs, wrote in an email. There was no entry in Pruitt’s calendar for the time when the lunch was to have taken place.
Calendars from Pruitt’s senior aides show he made frequent use of the space in the month following his February 2017 Senate confirmation. He dined there on Feb. 27, March 2 and met with Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and West Wing adviser, on March 13. Chief of staff Ryan Jackson’s calendar also lists a lunch in the “Mess” on March 16.
Pruitt also hosted representatives from the Oklahoma Farm Bureau on March 29, according to Jackson’s calendar. And he returned for lunch with Mike Catanzaro, a senior White House energy aide, and several senior aides on April 7.
Pruitt and his guests also seemed to have a sweet tooth, partaking of a dessert called “Chocolate Freedom” on multiple occasions. As POLITICO reported in January 2017, the dish – a molten cake made with imported French chocolate that must be ordered at the beginning of lunch because of the baking time – was also popular among Obama administration staffers on their way out the door.
Chocolate Freedom has garnered rave reviews online, and once prompted comedian Zach Galifianakis to ask, apparently in earnest, whether it was also the staff’s nickname for former President Barack Obama.
Also available to diners: boxes of red, white and blue M&Ms featuring the presidential seal.
Alex Guillen contributed to this report.