During a national TV appearance Sunday, Sen. Susan Collins did not rule out a U.S. military response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed at least 40 people Saturday, declared that Scott Pruitt is the wrong person to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and called for a more nuanced approach in the United States’ trade conflict with China.

Collins, R-Maine, covered a lot of ground in a nine-minute interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” show, at one point slamming Pruitt for his weak positions on environmental protection issues. Collins was the only Senate Republican to oppose his confirmation.

“This daily drip of accusations of excessive spending and ethical violations serve to further distract the agency from accomplishing its very important mission,” Collins told host Jake Tapper. “But on policy grounds alone, I think Scott Pruitt is the wrong person to head the EPA.”

Asked if she would support a U.S. military response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria, Collins said President Trump needs to get tough with Russia and described the attack as “absolutely horrific.”

At least 40 people died after the alleged poison gas attack in the rebel-held city of Douma, according to The Associated Press.

First responders found families suffocated in their homes with foam on their mouths. The allegations have been denied by the Syrian government and called a hoax by the Russian government. However, a statement issued by the Syrian American Medical Society, a medical relief organization, said more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were seen at medical centers suffering from difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth and burning of the eyes.

“Last time this happened, the president did a targeted attack to take out some of the facilities and that may be an option that we should consider now,” Collins said. “But it is further reason why it is so important that the president ramp up the pressure and the sanctions on the Russian government because without the support of Russia, I do not believe that Assad would still be in office.”

Referring to Bashar Hafez al-Assad, the president of Syria, Trump tweeted Sunday: “Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. … President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad.”

During the CNN interview, Collins said Trump needs to reconsider his plan for an early withdrawal from Syria of U.S. troops, who have been fighting the Islamic State there.

Asked if she supported the White House imposing new tariffs against China – an action that has the potential to harm farmers in Maine – Collins replied, “I think we need a more nuanced approach, but I give the president credit for levying these tariffs against the Chinese with whom we have talked for a decade about their unfair trade practices and theft of intellectual property from American firms.”

She added: “This is costing us jobs in this country and we do need to get tough with China. But we need to do so in a way that does not spark a trade war and retaliation that will end up with our European and Asian competitors getting business that otherwise would have come to American farmers and manufacturers.”

Tapper pressed Collins regarding Pruitt’s track record, asking her if he should resign or be fired.

“Well, that is a position only the president can take at this point,” she said. “The Congress has no role as far, now that he has been confirmed. I voted against confirming him, but I believe my position was the correct one and has been validated by his actions.”

Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine also voted against Pruitt’s confirmation. Two Democrats, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, voted “yea” and Pruitt was confirmed 52-46.

Pruitt has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks since it was revealed he rented a room in Washington, D.C., at below-market rates from a lobbyist with business before the EPA. He has also been criticized for high security costs and expensive travel after it was revealed he has been using 24-hour security details staffed by up to 19 people.

 

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