An accidental sex joke was the highlight of Rick Perry’s confirmation hearing
President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Energy, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, had his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, and it went about as well as could be expected in light of reports that Perry was unaware until recently that the department’s primary purpose is stewardship of America’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
Perry’s 2012 presidential bid was famously derailed when he forgot during a live televised debate that the Department of Energy was among the federal agencies he wanted to eliminate, and he started off the hearing by expressing regret for his past remarks. Perry said he learned from a briefing that the department performs many “vital functions.”
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 19, 2017
Those vital functions include designing, producing, testing, and safeguarding all of the weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Nuclear-related spending accounts for two-thirds of the department’s $30 billion annual budget, with the rest going toward energy-related research and domestic energy production.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that when Trump offered Perry the job of leading the department, the Texan thought he would be “taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry.”
“If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy,’” Michael McKenna, a Republican lobbyist and former Perry adviser told the 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.”
Other reports have pointed out that Perry issued a statement saying he looked forward to “safeguarding our nuclear arsenal” the same day his nomination was announced, suggesting he had at least a vague idea of what he was getting himself into, but there’s no arguing the fact that Perry’s résumé is dramatically different from previous leaders of the department.
Outgoing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, for example, is a Stanford-trained nuclear physicist and faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Perry studied animal husbandry at Texas A&M University, and his most notable work since leaving office in Texas was a stint on the reality television show “Dancing With the Stars.”
Perry handled most of the questions posed by members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with the skill of a career politician. He noted that as governor of Texas, he was CEO of the world’s 12th-largest economy, and suggested his skills “identifying good talent” and “putting them into place” would compensate for his lack of knowledge about nuclear physics. Asked whether he thinks the U.S. really ought to spend $1 trillion to modernize its nuclear arsenal, he deftly sidestepped the question and said that would be up to Congress to decide.
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 19, 2017
Perry’s only slip-up was a comedic one, and came during an exchange with Sen. Al Franken. After Franken asked him if he had enjoyed their earlier meeting in Franken’s office, Perry replied, “I hope you are as much fun on that dais as you are on your couch.”
As the room erupted in laughter, Perry, laughing as well, asked to rephrase the comment, then broke up Franken by calling it a “Saturday Night Live soundbite.”