- Jonathan Tilove American-Statesman Staff
The U.S. Senate voted 62-37 Thursday to confirm Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, as secretary of energy in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.
Perry — who ran twice for president without success, beat an indictment that had accused him of abusing his power at the tail end of his tenure as governor, and last fall made a brief but exuberant run on “Dancing With The Stars” — was among the last of Trump’s Cabinet picks to win confirmation, though that had less to do with any special animus against Perry than with Democrats’ slow-walking the new president’s nominees through the confirmation process.
Perry picked up the votes of 10 Democratic senators and U.S. Sen. Angus King, the Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
His Democratic supporters included Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of shale-boom North Dakota, Joe Manchin of coal-rich West Virginia and Catherine Cortez Masto, who opposes siting a nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain in her state of Nevada, an issue she pressed Perry on at his confirmation hearing, without getting a definitive answer.
The Senate earlier voted to confirm Dr. Ben Carson as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on a 58-41 vote.
At his confirmation hearing, Perry sought to smooth some hard edges on energy and environmental issues, saying, “I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity. The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy or American jobs.”
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, opened the Senate debate Thursday with a ringing endorsement of Perry.
Unlike his predecessors, Murkowski said, “he’s not an award-winning scientist, but you don’t necessarily need to have a scientist in order to lead scientists. You need to have somebody who is a good, strong, competent and capable manager, and that’s what Gov. Perry has demonstrated and that’s what the Department of Energy needs.”
“The man was born to lead,” said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
“During his governorship, Texas became known as the economic engine that could pull the train of the U.S. economy and could weather even the toughest national economic downturn,” Cornyn said.
“Under Gov. Perry’s leadership the state promoted cutting-edge innovation and sensible regulation in order to foster an all-of-the-above energy strategy that revolutionized the Texas energy landscape and the Texas economy,” Cornyn said. “The state became not just an oil-and-gas powerhouse but the top wind-producing state.”
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the committee’s ranking Democrat, spoke against Perry’s confirmation, saying he wasn’t a 21st century leader on energy issues. She cited his failure to oppose Trump administration moves away from the commitments by both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Cantwell also noted that most Americans may “remember him for his famous quip about wanting to get rid of an agency but then not remembering the name of the agency, and the agency he was talking about was the Department of Energy.”
That is a reference to Perry’s “oops” moment at November 2011 Republican presidential debate, an indelible blunder that his tenure atop the agency might finally give him a chance to live down.
Throughout his career, Perry has proved an irrepressible politician who is most happy in the thick of the action and wasn’t nearly ready to exit public life for the quiet of a Round Top retirement.
In his short-lived second campaign for president, Perry was among Trump’s fiercest critics.
“I will not go quiet when this cancer on conservatism threatens to metastasize into a movement of mean-spirited politics that will send the Republican Party to the same place it sent the Whig Party in 1854: the graveyard,” Perry declared in a July 2015 speech.
But, 10 months later, days after Trump’s victory seemed secure, Perry, on the occasion of his official portrait being unveiled at the Capitol Rotunda, made clear that he didn’t want to go quiet at all, offering to serve Trump in any capacity from vice president on down.