Rick Perry Deflects on Whether Energy Department Budget Cuts Coming

PHOTO: Rick Perry leaves Trump Tower, Dec. 12, 2016, in New York. PlayKena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Rick Perry Vows to 'Promote Energy in All Forms' at Confirmation Hearing

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a 2016 GOP primary rival of Donald Trump's, testified today in his Senate confirmation hearing for Energy Department secretary that he regretted once calling for the elimination of the agency but deflected a question on whether budget cuts are in its future.

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"My past statements, made over five years ago, about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking," Perry told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. "In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination."

But when asked today whether he supports reported budget cuts to the department, Perry said, "I can't answer whether that's true or not," adding that many statements surface on the internet and not all of them are true.

He said he would be an advocate for technologies from the agency that increase America's strength.

Whatever the funding levels, Perry stressed that he knows how to manage and prioritize, particularly when it comes to budgetary deficits. "This is not my first rodeo when it comes to budget shortfalls," he said in response to a senator who raised questions about the incoming administration's willingness to maintain current agency funding.

PHOTO: Energy Secretary-designate, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 19, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo
Energy Secretary-designate, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 19, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Under additional questioning about climate change, Perry disavowed a questionnaire the Trump transition team sent to Energy Department employees asking to name people who worked on the phenomenon.

"The questionnaire went out before I was selected," he said today. "I don't approve it. I don't need that information. I don't want that information."

Perry acknowledged the existence of human-influenced climate change in his opening remarks, despite previous statements to the contrary, and committed to "making decisions based on sound science."

He later reiterated that position after fielding a question from one senator on whether he would use "science as his guide" as energy secretary. He said he would.

Perry, 66, vowed to keep U.S. nuclear stockpiles "modern and safe," beef up security measures and "promote energy in all forms."

Another committee member, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, questioned Perry on the testing of nuclear weapons, asking the former governor whether he supported a ban on it.

Perry didn’t respond directly, but said, "I think anyone would be of the opinion that if we don’t ever have to test another nuclear weapon, that would be a good thing; not just for the United States but for the world."

He also addressed the U.S. energy grid's vulnerabilities to foreign influence, saying that the United States has the "technology and ability to stop cybersnooping."

Trump selected Perry last month to serve as his secretary of energy after a contentious primary season in which the two ran against each other.

When announcing Perry for the position, Trump praised his gubernatorial record in Texas, saying he produced millions of jobs and lower energy prices when he ran the state from 2000 to 2015.

But Perry was one of the first in the 2016 race to attack Trump, calling him a "cancer on conservatism."

The Department of Energy was one of three federal agencies Perry said during his 2012 presidential run that he wanted to see eliminated. It's also the agency whose name he infamously couldn't recall at a 2011 Republican primary debate.