Rick Perry, selected by President-elect Donald Trump to run the Department of Energy, understood the responsibilities of the job when he was picked, but he did not understand the severity of the challenges the department faces on nuclear infrastructure, a former transition team member told Morning Consult on Thursday.
Mike McKenna, an energy lobbyist who led Trump’s DOE transition team until November 2016 and advised Perry during his 2016 presidential campaign, sought to clarify Perry’s understanding of the job after The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Perry “misunderstood” its responsibilities.
McKenna told Morning Consult in a Thursday interview that Perry understood the department’s responsibilities, but did not understand how much of a focus would be required on nuclear issues.
Two-thirds of the department’s budget relates to the country’s nuclear stockpile, rather than energy industry issues.
McKenna told the Times, “If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy.’ If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve.”
On Thursday, McKenna sought to clarify that Perry understood the DOE secretary’s responsibilities on nuclear weapons, but did not understand “the gravity” after “25 years of neglect,” he said in an interview with Morning Consult. After a week to 10 days of further research, Perry realized nuclear would be a higher priority, McKenna said.
“Did he know that the nuclear stockpile is important? Sure,” McKenna told Morning Consult. “Did he later think, ‘This is a bigger problem than I understood when I came in?’ Yeah, that’s a bigger problem.”
In 2014, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel criticized “a consistent lack of investment and support for our nuclear forces over far too many years,” referring to the country’s nuclear infrastructure and personnel.
Testifying to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, Perry did not address the Times story. He did recant his 2012 presidential campaign promise to eliminate the Department of Energy, saying in his opening statement, “after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”