Energy Secretary Rick Perry To Resign

Oct 17, 2019
Originally published on October 18, 2019 12:26 am

Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry plans to leave his position at the end of the year, President Trump confirmed to reporters Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas. Trump praised Perry and said he already has a replacement in mind.

"Rick has done a fantastic job," Trump said. "But it was time."

Trump said that Perry's resignation didn't come as a surprise and that he has considered leaving for six months because "he's got some very big plans."

Perry, 69, is one of Trump's original Cabinet members and recently has emerged as a central figure in the impeachment inquiry of Trump.

Perry was part of what was dubbed "the three amigos" — in addition to Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, former envoy to Ukraine — charged with managing the U.S.-Ukraine relationship after the White House removed the core of its Ukraine policy team last spring.

Trump reportedly blamed Perry earlier this month for that now-famous call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump pressed Zelenskiy to investigate his potential political rival former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden's son.

Perry says he wanted Trump and Zelenskiy to talk strengthening energy business ties between the two countries. Regarding the Biden issue, Perry told the Christian Broadcasting Network, "As God is my witness, not once was a Biden name — not the former vice president, not his son — ever mentioned."

Perry's name first emerged in the appendix of the whistleblower complaint that launched the impeachment inquiry. He was tapped to attend Zelenskiy's inauguration last May.

Democrats issued Perry a subpoena on Oct. 10, seeking documents and communications connected to that trip and a series of other events related to the inquiry.

While Perry's name is making headlines now because of the Ukraine scandal, he had a long political career before becoming energy secretary.

For just over 14 years, he was governor of Texas, the longest-serving governor of the state. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1998 and succeeded George W. Bush when he resigned to become president.

Perry twice ran for president and on the campaign trail vowed to eliminate the agency he would come to lead — although, he famously forgot the name of the Department of Energy during a 2011 debate.

Perry changed his mind about that right around the time Trump nominated him to be secretary of energy. At his confirmation hearing, Perry said he regretted ever suggesting that idea.

Trump tapped him for the job despite wilting criticism Perry delivered as an opponent during the 2016 primary campaign. At a 2015 event, Perry said Trump "offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued."

As head of the Department of Energy, Perry was criticized for efforts to help the struggling coal industry. His plan to provide new subsidies to coal and nuclear power plants was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Last year, a photographer said he lost his job after leaking photos of a private 2017 meeting between Perry and coal executive and Trump donor Robert "Bob" Murray. The photos show Perry hugging Murray and the coal boss handing Perry an "action plan" to help the coal companies.

Perry has repeatedly questioned the science behind climate change. Still, his home state of Texas is the largest wind energy producer in the country. For the first half of this year, more electricity was generated in the state by wind than coal, according to member station KUT.

As energy secretary, Perry's oversight extended well beyond the country's energy supply. The Department of Energy also oversees 17 national laboratories and is charged with keeping the country's nuclear weapons safe.

During his tenure, Perry pushed to restart licensing of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage project in Nevada. He also tried to attract more young people to the nuclear energy business, vowing to "make nuclear cool again." Under Perry's leadership, the agency held a series of events called the Millennial Nuclear Caucus.

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President Trump confirmed today that Energy Secretary Rick Perry plans to leave his post soon, and Trump says he already has a replacement in mind. The president says he'll announce that name at a rally tonight in Texas. Perry has emerged as a central figure in the impeachment inquiry of Trump. NPR's Jeff Brady joins us now.

And, Jeff, remind us what that role is in this impeachment investigation.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Well, Energy Secretary Rick Perry was part of what's been dubbed the Three Amigos, which also included Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, former envoy to Ukraine. The three were charged with managing the U.S.-Ukraine relationship, and earlier this month, President Trump said - talking about that July 25 phone call, he said he didn't want to make that phone call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. And he said that Perry pressed him to make that phone call, and that's the one where Trump also pressed Zelenskiy to investigate the president's political rival Joe Biden.

Perry later said that he did urge Trump and Zelenskiy to talk but that he wanted them to talk about strengthening energy ties and that he never mentioned Biden. And now, of course, Democrats have issued a subpoena to Perry. They want documents and communications related to a series of events related to the inquiry, and Perry was given until tomorrow to comply with that.

CORNISH: So to be clear, Perry is not accused of wrongdoing.

BRADY: That's exactly right. Most of the people I talked with say Perry's focus in Ukraine was on energy, especially the natural gas business, and that's very important because Ukraine, you know, has had trouble coming out from under Russia's shadow since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Russia tends to use its big gas supplies to achieve political objectives in Europe, and the pipeline for that gas runs through Ukraine. There's a lot of money and corruption in the gas business in Ukraine, and most people I talk with say Perry was a force for trying to Westernize the gas business there, to open the markets and get rid of the corruption.

Now, we do have some people, including European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland today - he said that President Trump told Perry to consult with Rudy Giuliani about some of his work in Ukraine, and that's raised some questions. And Democrats in Congress are going to want to know more about the interactions between Giuliani and Perry as the impeachment inquiry continues.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, can we talk about his tenure at Energy? He was one of the president's original cabinet members.

BRADY: He was, and he's been criticized, mostly by environmental groups for trying to help the struggling coal industry. He met with coal executive Bob Murray in 2017, and there are photos of the two men hugging. Perry also has been a booster for nuclear energy, especially with young people. He said he wants to make nuclear cool again. But overall, he really hasn't had a very controversial legacy at the agency.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Jeff Brady.

Thank you.

BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.