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Double Entendres as Rick Perry Dodges Climate Change Questions

Rick Perry manages to avoid being pinned down at his Senate confirmation hearing.

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Rick Perry’s famous coif was barely mussed as he was being cross-examined by U.S. senators Thursday. At his confirmation hearing to lead the U.S. Department of Energy, Democrats tried to pin Perry down on exactly where he stands on climate change and the storage of nuclear waste; he demurred, saying that tackling climate change is a balancing act between science and economics. When Republican senators questioned him about energy issues in their home states, they glowed as if they were young and in love—the nominee would take care of them while forsaking all others. Perry came away from over three hours of questioning with a few nicks, but nothing that should undermine the expectation that he will head the agency that he once promised to abolish.

Perry attempted to address that issue in his opening statement to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry said. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.” Later, he even turned the flip-flop into a joke: when Democrats tried to grill him about reports that the Trump administration plans to make deep cuts in the agency, Perry likened the proposals to the 2011 presidential debate, when Perry forgot the DOE was one of the three federal agencies he wanted to eliminate (you probably remember his famous “oops“). “Maybe they’ll have the same experience I had and forget that they said that,” Perry said of the proposed cuts.

Democrats gave him a tougher time as he tried to shake his past denial of climate change science. Perry tried to thread the needle from the get-go, saying that “the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity.” But the didn’t get him off the hook for what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it questions. The committee’s senior Democrat, Senator Maria Cantwell, said an upcoming federal study will show that the cost of climate change to the federal government will run into the trillions of dollars, and used her home state, Washington, as an example of an already suffering economy. Perry pointed to the amount of pollutants removed from the Texas air during his time as governor by shutting down dirty power plants and converting some to carbon capture and natural gas. He also noted his promotion of renewable energy sources such as wind and biofuels. A 2014 Politifact on the subject found Perry was not covering all the bases, though.

Half True, we found then. Perry accurately recapped improvements in ozone levels. But as for the NOx emissions contributing to ozone levels, his statistic included only one NOx source — industrial — which he did not note. Notably, nearly three-quarters of NOx emissions come from other sources.

The most direct questioning came from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who demanded that Perry recant his statements from the 2011 campaign and embrace climate change as a global crisis. As Perry attempted to steer back into his record in Texas, Sanders interrupted him by posing a direct question:

Sanders: “I am asking you if you agree with the scientific community that climate change is a crisis?”

Perry: “And senator, I will respond that I think that having an academic discussion, whether it’s with scientists or whether it’s with you, it is an interesting exercise.”

One of the odder exchanges occurred as Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota opened his questioning with an exchange about meeting Perry in his office. Franken is a former comedian and was a member of the cast of Saturday Night Live.

“Did you enjoy meeting me?” Franken asked.

“I hope you are as much fun on that dias as you were on your couch,” Perry replied.

“Well—” Franken began before hesitating as Perry’s words sunk in and the crowd erupted in laughter. Perry turned to former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell, who was there to support him, and they both laughed before Perry returned his gaze to Franken.

“May I rephrase that, sir?” Perry interjected.

“Please, please, please,” Franken said, acting as if he was embarrassed. “Oh my Lord, oh my Lord.”

Perry, who had doubled over in laughter, replied, “Well, I think we found our Saturday Night Live soundbite.”

Innocent innuendo aside, Perry showed himself adept at answering questions in a way that kept him from being pinned down in a way that would make him answerable in the future. He promised to protect scientific programs at the DOE, but declined to promise to protect individual scientists. He did not dismiss basic research, but articulated a preference for applied science that results in economic growth.

Even when he waded into the weeds, Perry emerged with few scratches. He said the nation has spent too much time on the politics and management issues of nuclear waste without developing either a short- or long-term solution other than storing it at nuclear power plants. Currently, the DOE is doing test wells at three sites for the storage of high-level waste. One of those sites, in Andrews County, Texas, has been promoted by Perry in the past, but has also been criticized because it was partly owned by the late Harold Simmons, a major Perry political donor. Perry also caused some concern for the committee when he promoted the export of natural gas, which some members claimed would lead to higher domestic heating costs. Overall, though, nothing occurred that would make you believe Perry will be anything other than confirmed by the Senate as the next energy secretary.

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  • C’mon man; Freud. Homoerotic banter is a direct link to Rick Perry’s subconscious mind.

    Why can’t the poor fellow just come out of the closet? #LoveTrumpsHate

  • WUSRPH

    Rick has always been good at “personal politics”. He performed well as usual. Whenever I see him at “work” being charming, etc. I always think of the comment by some that they voted for George W. because he was the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with…..Unfortunately, in both Perry and Bush’s cases, because you find him friendly does not make him the right man for the job.

    • donuthin2

      Bush does have a good bit of charm and it worked well for him. Perry has the charm of a rattlesnake.

      • Gunslinger

        I must respectfully disagree. I don’t care for Perry’s policies one bit. I do not support him at all. However, I’ve met him a number of times. He is charming. He makes it easy to like him on a personal level. With that said, that’s his and every other politicians’ #1 job. If you don’t like him, why would you ever vote for him? He’s good and getting you to like him on a personal level at least.

        • SpiritofPearl

          Hitler was reported to be very personable.

        • John Johnson

          Agree. He is, in so many ways, a charming suit on an empty body.

  • José

    After his miserable experience as a Presidential contender it appears that Rick Perry learned a couple of things–he got a good scriptwriter and studied his lines. Let’s hope that he also learned something more pertinent to the job of heading the Department of Energy.

  • WUSRPH

    Off the topic but:

    In 2008 candidate Barrack Obama talked about how he would“bring us together”, breaking the deadlock that seemed to stand in the way of accomplishing things in Washington….but, unfortunately, that did not happen. Instead, even while the new President and his wife were taking the dance floor at the Inaugural Ball, a group of Republican leaders were sitting down to a dinner which ended with them figuratively taking an oath to oppose anything and everything the new President would propose—a pledge they more than honored for the next eight years.

    Tomorrow Donald Trump becomes the president and, without doubt, he will also talk about bringing Americans together to work for the good of the Country…..but, again unfortunately, that does not appear to be likely. This time there will be no secret dinner at which the Democratic equivalents of the Republicans of 2009 pledge their eternal opposition to Trump. Instead, several dozen of them are publicly making that stand clear by their refusal to attend Trump’s swearing-in. The question is whether their efforts will be as successful in blocking Trump’s initiatives as the GOP’s were to Obama’s.

    • BCinBCS

      Already Republicans are complaining about Senate Democrats slow-walking their nominees through their confirmation hearings.
      (My heart just bleeds for the Republicans. Goose/gander.)

      • Mariaawaller

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    • SpiritofPearl

      Day of mourning,
      Day of wrath,
      All about us,
      Turns to ash.

      —- medieval requiem

      • John Bernard Books

        Prez Trump get used to it…

      • SpiritofPearl

        “This user is blocked.”

        • John Johnson

          What does “this user is blocked” mean? In my mind, it just reiterates what everyone who has read your posts here for the last few years already knows…that you can dish it out, but can’t take it.

    • John Johnson

      Go watch the two 1 hr Frontline programs on Obama and Trump. As balanced as anything I have seen out of any media source in a long time.

  • John Bernard Books

    Democrat’s minds always in the gutter. Perry was being sociable Franklin made it about sex.

  • José

    Perry may have earned a grade of D in that course called “Meats” back at A&M but he handled this ham well at his roast and with a little good natured ribbing he avoided becoming the butt of any jokes. Good thing since so much was at steak.

    • Gunslinger

      Well played, sir.

    • John Johnson

      Agree. He handled it well…and I was not expecting that at all.

  • John Bernard Books