Ask a random person on the street what they know about Rick Perry, and a decent percentage of the responses will include the word “oops.” Perry rose to national attention in 2012, when he first tried to parlay his position as governor of the state of Texas into a bid for the White House. Unfortunately, his flailing campaign was doomed when, during one of the year's Republican primary debates, he tried to name three Cabinet positions that he planned to eliminate, but could only remember two. Oops.
The one he couldn't remember was the Department of Energy. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that President-elect Donald Trump has probably chosen the person he wants to lead this government agency. That pick is expected to be Rick Perry.
Perry's antipathy to the department he's being asked to lead is not unusual. There's a distinct pattern among Trump's picks of antipathy or hostility from nominees to Cabinet positions toward the work of those departments or toward the department themselves.
Rick Perry, Department of Energy. Though Energy wasn't at the tip of his tongue in that November 2011 debate, Perry did specifically identify the agency in the announcement of his “Cut, Balance and Grow” plan the previous month.
Perry “pledged to reduce spending across several agencies including the Department of Education, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency, while returning greater regulatory control of those responsibilities to the states,” his news release about the rollout read. Five years later, he has the opportunity to do precisely that.
Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA, founded by President Richard M. Nixon, has been a target of Republican ire for some time for two reasons. First, its mandate is to assure compliance with environmental regulations, which are often unappreciated by businesses. Second, its newly robust efforts on climate change run against the grain of party orthodoxy.
As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt's mandate is to protect the interests of the state's residents, including its large fossil fuel sector. President Obama's focus on climate change, including the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce emissions at coal-burning electricity plants, has prompted legal action by red states, including Pruitt's.
The Post's Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney quoted Pruitt in an article this week:
Two years ago, at an event convened by the conservative Federalist Society, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt joked about a competition of sorts he had going with the Texas attorney general over the Environmental Protection Agency.“When I came into office, I think he had roughly 13 lawsuits against the EPA,” Pruitt told the audience. “I’m trying to catch up — we only have, I think, six or seven.”
They also quoted a radio interview in which Pruitt explained what he'd like to see at the agency he may soon head. “When you look at the EPA, and the role that it’s played over the last several years, there’s going to be substantial change in that agency,” he said. “There’s going to be a regulatory rollback.”
Betsy DeVos, Education Department. DeVos is a member of a wealthy Michigan family and has been involved in Republican politics for some time. Her political focus has been on education — particularly with reducing the amount spent on public schools in favor of increasing the number of charter schools.
The New York Times walked through DeVos's track record in Michigan. Of the nominee's opposition to a measure in the state last spring, the paper wrote, “Detroit Public Schools, she argued, should simply be shut down and the system turned over to charters, or the tax dollars given to parents in the form of vouchers to attend private schools." (A representative for a group that works with DeVos denied that her goal is so sweeping.)
The Education Department's mission is simply “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access,” meaning that DeVos's priority isn't necessarily out of line with the department's aims. As with Energy and the EPA, though, it's clear that the work (and spending) of the agency would probably change dramatically.
Ben Carson, Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, a neurosurgeon, has less experience for his proposed position than do most of Trump's other picks. He has, however, been an outspoken opponent of a proposal from the agency that would mandate that local community housing programs address segregation by race and class.
In an interview with a radio host in Iowa last year, Carson criticized an agreement between HUD and the city of Dubuque to address those issues.
“This is what you see in communist countries, where they have so many regulations encircling every aspect of your life that if you don’t agree with them, all they have to do is pull the noose,” Carson said. “And this is what we’ve got now. Every month, dozens of regulations — business, industry, academia, every aspect of our lives — so that they can control you.”
It's not surprising that switching control of the White House from one party to the other would mean a shift in focus within the agencies. Some of Trump's Cabinet picks, however, have more contentious relationships with the agencies they may lead. The proposed head of the Labor Department, Andy Puzder, runs a major fast-food company that's been fined by the department for workplace safety and wage violations, for example.
But Perry and the others identified above seem a bit further along the conflict-spectrum with the agencies they may soon manage: actively seeking to overhaul or dramatically scale back what these federal agencies do — and what their roles would entail.