During his fourteen years as Texas governor, Rick Perry was always a big picture guy who led the chief executive’s office sort of like Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek fame. Gather the staff around. Knock around options. Then the captain would declare: Make it so.
This is a polite way of saying Rick Perry—whose name has been popping up lately as a potential chief of staff for President Donald Trump—was not a detail kind of guy. He kept competent people around him to execute his agenda. But he is not a micro-manager, which is exactly what a chief of staff has to be. Remember, Perry is the energy secretary who in a 2011 Republican presidential debate was asked to name the three federal agencies he wanted to eliminate and could not remember one was the Department of Energy. “Ooops,” he said.
Now, suddenly, in the turmoil of the Trump White House and the announced departure of current chief of staff John Kelly, Perry’s name has been added to the long list of people who might become Kelly’s successor. For those who don’t know, the chief of staff is the day to day administrator who keeps the White House running smooth—ranging from barking orders at underlings to serving as the ultimate gatekeeper for access to the president.
This is so far from the talents of the boy from Paint Creek, Texas that my bet is Perry probably is considering staying in the Middle East, where he spent Monday discussing the development of nuclear energy in the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In fact, Perry spends a lot of time out of Washington, out of the whirlwind. Just last month, Perry was in the Ukraine to discuss energy issue cooperation. Before that, Perry was in Poland. Then there was travel to Norfolk, Virginia; the Brookhaven National Lab in Upton, New York; the American Water Summit in Philadelphia; and San Antonio to celebrate a decade of mineral extraction in the Eagle Ford Shale. All since October 1.
If you stay out of Washington, you stay out of the crosshairs of special prosecutor Robert Mueller. The last time Perry heard the words special prosecutor was in 2014 when a Texas special prosecutor convinced a Travis County grand jury to indict Perry for abusing his veto power in an effort to force the county district attorney to resign after a drunk driving arrest. Almost a year later, the Texas Third Court of Appeals dismissed the indictment as a violation of Perry’s First Amendment right of free speech.
But in the Russian interference/obstruction of justice investigation by Mueller in Washington, President Trump’s first two chiefs of staff —Reince Priebus and Kelly—each have had to give testimony to special prosecutors. Kelly replaced Priebus last year, and he is leaving on January 2.
Perry’s name entered the long list after Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, turned down the job. The job of bringing order to what has been described as a chaotic White House also was waved off by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney; and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Speculation then focused on U.S. Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who was in Austin on Tuesday to make a speech on cracking down on illegal immigration. Whitaker took no questions from the media.
Perry has become like the designated survivor. If enough people turn down the chief of staff job, the offer might come to him.
Trump was defensive on Twitter about his section process.
Fake News has it purposely wrong. Many, over ten, are vying for and wanting the White House Chief of Staff position. Why wouldn’t someone want one of the truly great and meaningful jobs in Washington. Please report news correctly. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 11, 2018
He previously had played down the rumors about Ayers.
I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff. Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda. I will be making a decision soon!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2018
So far, Trump has not tweeted about Perry and the job. Speculation is now turning toward former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Half a world away from the speculation, Perry spent Tuesday in Iraq at an event sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to urge Iraq to decrease its imports of natural gas from Iran in favor of liquefied natural gas from the United States—a growing industry in Texas. As Politico noted last summer: “The no-drama Energy secretary has demonstrated a remarkable ability to avoid the negative headlines that have dogged other Cabinet members.”
Why would he want the headache now?