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The Senate on Thursday confirmed Rick Perry to lead the Energy Department — an agency he once pledged to eliminate.
Perry, the former Texas governor and a two-time Republican presidential candidate, was confirmed on a 62-37 vote.
The Senate confirmed Perry after only a few hours of debate on Thursday afternoon, moving unexpectedly quickly on the final cabinet-level member of President Trump’s energy and environment team.
During a Republican primary debate in 2011, Perry listed the three federal agencies he would abolish as president but famously forgot the Energy Department, quipping, “oops.”
But after Trump nominated him to lead the department in December, Perry said he had reconsidered the importance of the agency, which supports energy research and oversees the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
"My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry said at his January confirmation hearing.
“In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
Republicans supported Perry's nomination, applauding his support of the Texas energy sector during his time as governor and saying his experience in Austin means he can effectively lead a $30 billion, 14,400-person department.
“He will hold his employees and contractors accountable. We know that he will be a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSchumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema Democrats make voting rights push ahead of Senate consideration Clyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' MORE (R-Alaska) said during floor debate on Thursday.
“I think that he will work to continue to break down the research silos that have really frustrated the department and work to find ways that there can be greater collaboration — greater working together — and I’m also confident that he will pursue policies that will ultimately provide us with more stable sources of energy.”
Democrats said they are concerned about Perry’s views on climate change and his support for climate research in the department. The Trump administration has previously hinted at potential deep cuts for the Energy Department, something Democrats contend Perry will struggle to resist.
“I take Gov. Perry at this word that he has been briefed on all the functions of the Department of Energy and that he does not believe it should be abolished, as he once articulated,” Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellUS lawmakers weigh new COVID-19 stimulus funding for businesses Senate whistleblower report alleges oversight problems with aerospace industry safety On The Money — Senate risks Trump's ire with debt ceiling deal MORE (D-Wash.) said.
“But, as I said, his testimony leaves a lot to question about whether he will fight for these essential programs in a Trump administration who have already tried to target these agencies and programs to be defunded.”
The Senate confirmed Perry after only about three hours of debate on Thursday, moving his nomination quicker than any other energy or environment official in Trump’s cabinet.
Senators confirmed Ryan Zinke to lead the Interior Department on Wednesday. Scott Pruitt became administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in February.
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