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Secretary Perry at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Photo: Michael Brochstein / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Tasked with defending the Trump administration’s 2019 Department of Energy budget to a Senate committee yesterday, Secretary Rick Perry instead hinted that senators should overrule White House cuts to energy innovation.

“If this Congress, this committee, supports the funding of that, it will be operated in a way you will be most pleased at,” Perry said of ARPA-E, an agency that invests in breakthrough energy technology bets and is slated for elimination in Trump’s budget.

How we got here: Last June, Perry testified about Trump’s 2018 budget — which also slashed funding for research, development and demonstration (RD&D) of new energy technologies — but distanced himself from the proposal by noting that it was crafted before he was confirmed as secretary.

What's new: This time, Perry couldn’t escape the uncomfortable position of defending steep cuts to departmental innovation programs he supports. For example, he recently called improved battery technology “the holy grail,” but Trump’s budget slashes RD&D for energy storage by 74% and for renewable energy by 66%.

Perry likely could not count on the Office of Management and Budget, helmed by deficit hawk Mick Mulvaney, to sustain funding for energy innovation, but he knows Congress will reject the White House’s cuts. The Senate has already opposed them, and Congress passed a bipartisan budget deal in February that authorized $57 billion more than Trump budgeted. That paves the way for Congress to fund line items such as ARPA-E and maybe even budget increases: Senators from both sides of the aisle yesterday called for more technological innovation funding, from carbon capture to renewable energy.

Why it matters: Because it can boost economic growth and shore up energy security, energy innovation enjoys bipartisan support. Trump's cuts have been successfully opposed thus far, but the real test is whether Congress can marshal the political will to increase support for energy innovation to a level that will reap its full benefits.

Varun Sivaram is the Philip D. Reed Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet."

Go deeper

Senate Armed Services chair dismisses Trump threat to veto defense bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he plans to move ahead with a crucial defense-spending bill without provisions that would eliminate tech industry protections, defying a veto threat from President Trump.

Why it matters: Inhofe's public rebuke signals that the Senate could have enough Republican backing to override a potential veto from Trump, who has demanded that the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Scoop: Uber in talks to sell air taxi business to Joby Aviation

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Uber is in advanced talks to sell its Uber Elevate unit to Joby Aviation, Axios has learned from multiple sources. A deal could be announced later this month.

Between the lines: Uber Elevate was formed to develop a network of self-driving air taxis, but to date has been most notable for its annual conference devoted to the nascent industry.

Setting the Biden-era cybersecurity agenda

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Biden administration will face a wide array of cybersecurity challenges but can take meaningful action in at least five key areas, concludes a new report by the Aspen Cybersecurity Group.

Why it matters: Cybersecurity policy is a rare refuge from Washington's hyperpartisan dysfunction, as shown by the recent work of the bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission. President-elect Joe Biden should have a real opportunity to make progress on shoring up the nation's cybersecurity and cyber capabilities without bumping up against a likely Republican-controlled Senate.