President-elect Trump is looking at former Texas governor Rick Perry, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Texas businessman Ray Washburne to head the Energy Department, according to individuals briefed on the matter.
While Trump has not made a final decision, those three are now the finalists for the post, according to these individuals. They asked for anonymity because a formal announcement or decision has not yet been made.
All three men are supporters of expanding fossil fuel production, and would likely shift the priorities of a department that has promoted renewable energy and curbs on greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change during President Obama’s time in office. While both Perry and Manchin are veteran politicians, Washburne is a successful restaurant and real estate magnate who would represent an unorthodox pick for the Cabinet post.
Manchin, who arrived at Trump Tower Monday afternoon to meet with the president-elect, told reporters afterward, “We had a good conversation,” but did not elaborate beyond that. The West Virginian, a moderate who has served as a bridge between the two parties while in the Senate, spent six years as his home state’s governor before winning a special election in 2010 for the seat of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
Manchin is a staunch supporter of coal mining and has frequently criticized the Obama administration’s efforts to impose limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants as well as stricter environmental regulations on coal mining. While he has expressed frustration in the past about congressional gridlock, he announced last spring he would run for reelection in 2018.
“They’re looking for somebody in the middle,” he said in an interview on MSNBC at the time. “They need six of me to make something work.”
If he were tapped that would open a vacancy in a state where Republicans have a widening advantage over Democrats, though the state’s Democratic governor would initially appoint Manchin’s successor.
Perry — who is slated to meet with Trump Monday evening — focused more on oil and gas production during his 14 years as Texas governor, given the rich resources the state boasts. Ironically, the Energy Department was central to the 2012 gaffe that ended his first presidential bid: After declaring that he wanted to eliminate three federal agencies during a presidential debate in Michigan, he froze after mentioning the Commerce and Education Department. “The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops,” he said.
Later during the debate, Perry offered, “By the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago.”
Speaking to reporters once the event was over, he said, “The bottom line is I may have forgotten Energy, but I haven’t forgotten my conservative principles, and that’s what this campaign is really going to be about.”
Washburne, a GOP fundraiser who served as vice chairman of the Trump Victory Committee, is both the co-founder of MCrowd Restaurant Group and CEO of Charter Holdings, a real estate investment company. A former chair of the Republican National Committee, Washburne met with Trump in New York last month and chairs the transition’s Commerce Department landing team.
Despite its name, most of the Energy Department’s budget is devoted to maintaining the nation’s stockpile of nuclear warheads and to cleaning up nuclear waste at sites left by military weapons programs. The department runs the nation’s national laboratories, sets appliance standards and hands out grants and loan guarantees for everything from basic research to solar cells to capturing carbon dioxide from coal combustion.
The search for Energy Secretary came as Trump was also narrowing the field for the Interior Department. He met Monday with both Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the highest-ranking woman in the congressional Republican leadership, and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.). Both are Westerners, which is often considered a requirement for the job, though McMorris Rodgers has not focused extensively on lands issues. Zinke, in contrast, is a longtime hunter and angler who has emerged as a vocal proponent of public lands access during his one term in the House.
The president-elect also met Monday with Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho), who told reporters afterward they talked about “a lot of issues about the West and how we could make sure that the Western issues are listened to. And it was a great great meeting.” When asked whether he would consider serving in the administration, Labrador said, “If I can help in the administration or if I can help him in Congress, I’m very excited about it.”
Steven Mufson contributed to this report.