Donald Trump has narrowed his search for energy secretary to four people, with former Texas Governor Rick Perry the leading candidate.
People familiar with the president-elect’s selection process said two Democratic senators from energy-producing states — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — are also in the mix, along with Ray Washburne, a Dallas investor and former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
If Trump picks any of the four he’ll break with recent tradition of putting scientists at the top of the Energy Department. Among other things, the agency is responsible for policies on the safe handling of nuclear material and on emerging energy technologies.
Trump met with Perry and Washburne while attending the Army-Navy football game in Baltimore on Saturday. It was at least the second time he’d spoken to the men for potential roles in the new administration. Trump interviewed Heitkamp at Trump Tower in New York on Dec. 2, and is scheduled to meet with Manchin on Monday.
Jay Martin Cohen, a retired Rear Admiral of the U.S. Navy, is said to be Trump’s choice for under secretary for nuclear security, a position within the Energy Department, the people said. Cohen studied ocean and marine engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was an under secretary at the Department of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration after ending his military career as chief of the Office of Naval Research.
Two scientists have run the Energy Department during the Obama administration: Ernest Moniz, the incumbent, is a nuclear physicist who previously headed an energy initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His predecessor was self-professed nerd Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate who directed the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and was a professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology.
Perry, in a 2011 Republican primary debate, famously forgot that the Energy Department was one of the three federal government agencies he wanted to eliminate. The other two were the Commerce and Education Departments. The gaffe may have cost him a shot at the party’s 2012 nomination.
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