During a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Thursday, Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) had been questioning Perry about efforts to rebuild the island’s energy grid following the Hurricane Maria devastation.
“That is a country that already had its challenges before this storm,” Perry said.
“It’s America,” Castor retorted. “They’re American citizens, so it’s not a country.”
Perry then apologized. Earlier in the hearing, he had correctly referred to Puerto Rico as a territory.
President Donald Trump has been under fire for his response to the hurricane-ravaged island. As many Puerto Ricans struggled to survive without power and clean water, Trump criticized the island for its “broken infrastructure & massive debt.” He has also repeatedly insulted San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who had begged federal officials for more help. Then, on Thursday, he threatened to pull federal responders off the island.
Perry has his own history of very public gaffes. In 2011, while gunning for a presidential bid, he forgot the name of one federal agency he wanted to get rid of during a debate ― the department he is now in charge of.
“It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone – Commerce, Education and the um, what’s the third one there? Let’s see. Oh five – Commerce, Education and the um, um,” Perry said.
And he persisted.
“The third agency of government I would do away with ― the education, the uh, the commerce and let’s see,” he said. “I can’t the third one. I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
Several minutes later, he remembered. “By the way, it was the Department of Energy I was talking about.”
Perry also reportedly didn’t fully know what the department did when he agreed to take the job.
As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told GQ, “I think he thought his department was more about energy than... science. Mostly, it’s science.”
“We laugh a lot about it,” Zinke noted.