In a development that proves irony is decidedly not deceased, former governor Rick Perry, fresh off his run on Dancing With the Stars, is set to become the secretary of energy in Trump's administration, according to various reports on Tuesday.
Yep, that's right, the agency Perry infamously both wanted to eliminate and couldn't remember during a 2011 Republican presidential primary debate may now have Perry as its head.
Perry was discussing his jobs plan and his flat tax plan when he said: "And I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education and the...what's the third one there? Let's see." Finally, Perry gave up. "I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops."
It was the "oops" heard round the world.
Perry was not a Trump supporter in the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign. In fact, he actually went after the Donald and was one of the few Republican hopefuls to successfully stand up to Trump, calling him “a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.”
(Perry's own surprisingly coherent and reasonable presidential bid ended shortly thereafter, though, which should have been a clue that many voters were not feeling even a Perry level of reasonable about the election and were willing to take their chances with the Trump, but hindsight is 20-20, after all.)
However, once it became clear Trump was actually going to get the GOP presidential nod, Perry stepped up and endorsed him and stumped for Trump on the campaign trail, right through the general election. That might just-possibly-maybe have something to do with why Perry is now getting a cabinet position.
Initially he was in the running, along with Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, to become secretary of agriculture, a suggestion that we noted would actually not be the worst choice in the world, since Perry started out in agriculture and knows something about it.
But instead he will, so long as the Senate confirms him, be the head of a department with a budget of more than $29 billion and 100,000 federal employees. Conservatives have pushed to get Perry the position because he's viewed as someone with management experience. This is actually an understandable take on Perry. After all, as the former governor of Texas, he has to have some understanding of the energy industry, because you don't hang onto that office in Texas if you don't.
But conservatives have also been advocating for Perry because they believe he won't be as stuck on Department of Energy programs like the fossil and efficiency offices, programs they insist only drive up costs and mess with the market, according to Politico.
The thing is, the position isn't just about oil or even about simply regulating the U.S. energy industry, as we've previously noted. Since the secretary of energy job was created by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, the Department of Energy has covered a number of different issues, including protecting the energy security of the country, promoting scientific and technological innovation, and cleaning up the national nuclear weapons complex.
Right now, the department spends about half of its budget managing the nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons and cleaning up environmental waste in Washington State resulting from nuclear weapons production. The department also runs labs focused on climate change.
The post is also usually held by someone with, well, a lot more education than Perry. Sure, the guy with the best head of hair in professional politics went to Texas A&M University, but the first energy secretary, James Schlesinger, earned a bunch of degrees, including a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard. The current energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, is a nuclear physicist who got his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Stanford.
And then there's Perry, who holds a bachelor's in animal science and who probably doesn't know much about keeping track of nukes and is a climate-change skeptic.
While he'll likely be paired with a deputy secretary who actually knows something about nuclear weapons, dealing with nuclear waste cleanup and all the other stuff Perry will probably not understand, the actual approach to the Department of Energy could be in line with Perry's old, old “oops”-ian dream of getting rid of the entity altogether.
There have already been signals from the likes of the Heritage Foundation about what conservatives want to see happen to the Energy Department under Trump. In November the foundation urged Trump to eliminate a huge portion of programs in the department, including the ones tied to research and development of green energy initiatives under President Barack Obama. The foundation also wants to see the government sell off its strategic oil reserves, held in case some country decides to cut off the U.S. oil supply, so that we can all find out that the private industry definitely, totally has us covered on that front.
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And that's not the end of troubling implications.
Climate change research and science probably won't be faring well once Perry takes the reins of the agency. There have already been calls to cut research and development altogether. Now it looks like the Trump administration is setting up to go after federal employees who have been doing the climate change work under Obama. Last week, Trump's transition team asked the Energy Department to supply all the names of agency employees who have worked on Obama's climate initiatives.
And no, that is not a normal thing for a presidential transition team to request. Yes, traditionally some officials in departments get shoved out for new ones that reflect the new administration's approach to things, but singling federal employees out based on their views on one major issue is pretty unusual, as Yale University environmental historian Paul Sabin told the Washington Post last week.
In other words, the Department of Energy is going to be a very different beast under the Trump administration, and Perry, the guy who once obliterated his own presidential aspirations in less than 60 seconds by having a brain fart and not being able to name the agency he planned to eliminate, is now probably going to be the next guy in charge of it.