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Rick Perry 'regrets' saying the Energy Department should be abolished

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, President-elect Donald Trump's choice as secretary of energy, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. (Getty Images/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Energy Secretary-designate Rick Perry no longer thinks the agency he's seeking to run should be abolished.

The former Texas governor and onetime candidate for the Republican presidential nomination told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during his confirmation hearing Thursday that he's "learned a great deal" about the Energy Department and regrets thinking that it should be eliminated.

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

Perry continued:

If confirmed, I will enter this role excited and passionate about advocating and advancing the core mission of DOE, drawing greater attention to the vital role played by the agency and the hardworking men and women who dedicate themselves in pursuit of these missions.

Perry infamously forgot the Department of Energy during a 2011 Republican presidential debate when he was asked which three federal agencies he would like to abolish. He named only two agencies: Commerce and Education.

Former Texas Rep. Ron Paul tried to help Perry out by suggesting the Environmental Protection Agency, but it was not until several minutes later when Perry thought of the third agency: the Energy Department.

Perry unsuccessfully ran for president in 2012 and 2016.

Now, in his confirmation hearings, Perry faces questions about how he would run the agency — and if he understands the agency's mission in general.

A Wednesday New York Times report alleged that Perry "initially misunderstood" the scope of the job offered to him by President-elect Donald Trump.

"If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, 'I want to be an advocate for energy,'" Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist and a former advisor for Perry's 2016 presidential bid, told the New York Times. "If you ask him now, he'd say, 'I'm serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.' It's been a learning curve."

McKenna has since criticized the Times' report and claimed that his comments were mischaracterized.

Perry contended Thursday that he does understand the breadth of the job.

"I am committed to modernizing our nuclear stockpile, promoting and developing American energy in all forms, advancing the department's critical stance and technology mission and carefully disposing of nuclear waste," Perry said.

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