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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

Scoop: U.S. begins denying Afghan immigrants

Afghan refugees on a bus bound for temporary housing after arriving in Greece. Photo: Byron Smith/Getty Images

The Biden administration has begun issuing denials to Afghans seeking to emigrate to the United States through the humanitarian parole process, after a system that typically processes 2,000 applications annually has been flooded with more than 30,000.

Why it matters: Afghans face steeper odds and longer processes for escaping to the U.S., despite the earlier sweeping efforts by the Biden administration to assist its allies. Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups say the government has set untenable barriers to a safe haven in the U.S.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dems invoke Robert Byrd to sell Manchin on Senate rules changes

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Diana Walker, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A small group of Senate Democrats is privately invoking the legacy of late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd in an effort to sway Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support their plans to change the chamber's rules, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Manchin — who holds Byrd's Senate seat — has often referenced his predecessor's strong moral conviction and insistence on preserving the Senate as an institution, as justification for some of his tough positions.

House votes to ban imports from Xinjiang over forced labor concerns

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The House voted 428-1 on Wednesday to pass a bill that would ban all imports from the Chinese region of Xinjiang unless the U.S. government determines that the products were not made with forced labor.

Why it matters: Both the Trump and Biden administrations, as well as several foreign parliaments, have recognized China's repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang as genocide.