Report: Rick Perry is still learning what it means to be secretary of energy

Perry once called for the Energy Department's elimination. Now he needs to get up to speed

By Matthew Rozsa
January 19, 2017 8:06PM (UTC)
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FILE - In this Dec. 12, 2016, file photo, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry smiles as he leaves Trump Tower in New York. President-elect Donald Trump selected Perry to be secretary of energy. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File) (AP)

Former Texas governor Rick Perry, who was tapped by President-elect Donald Trump as his secretary of energy, is apparently still in the process of learning about what his new job will entail.

"If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy,’" said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who worked both for Perry’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Trump transition team, told The New York Times. "If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve."


When Perry accepted Trump's offer to lead the Department of Energy, he had believed that this would involve advocating for the American oil and gas industry on the international stage, according to the Times. He was apparently surprised to learn that his main responsibility would be that of overseeing America's nuclear weapons arsenal, which consumes two-thirds of the energy department's annual $30 billion budget.

Not surprisingly, both Perry defenders and anti-Obama administration critics have taken to Twitter so they can blast The New York Times for pointing out Perry's need for a learning curve.


Mandel's insult was directed at Ernest J. Moniz, the current secretary of energy who once presided as chairman over the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's physics department.

Perry himself is expected to be contrite about calling for the energy department's elimination, which he did throughout his 2012 campaign for the presidency. This culminated in an embarrassing faux pas in which he couldn't recall the department's name during one of the Republican presidential debates.


"My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking," Perry is expected to say during his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.

"In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination."


He's come a long way toward leading the cabinet department he once forgot he wanted to remove.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Donald Trump Energy Department Rick Perry