Republicans pulled the Solyndra scandal back into the spotlight with another investigative hearing Thursday, this time grilling Obama’s Energy Secretary Steven Chu over why his department threw half a billion dollars at a doomed solar company and whether political influence played a role.
So far, Solyndra’s bankruptcy debacle has basically been a layup for the GOP, as the White House struggles to explain its political ties to the company, and its involvement in securing the $535 million energy loan.
But House Republicans may have squandered their golden opportunity when they decided to make Chu, Washington’s most loveable nerd, the fall guy for the scandal.
Hauled in to testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Chu was assailed for more than five hours by Republicans who accused him of “putting politics before the stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”
The Nobel laureate and all-around science rockstar firmly defended the Department of Energy’s loan program:
“I want to be clear — over the course of Solyndra’s loan guarantee, I did not make any decision based on political considerations,” he said in his opening statement, adding later that the Solyndra decision “was absolutely based only on merits.”
When asked if he knew George Kaiser, the Obama bundler whose foundation invested in Solyndra, Chu said he had never even heard of him when he approved the loan.
If Chu had been another member of Obama’s Cabinet, the testimony may have seemed weak and predictable. Chu, however, is the embodiment of American meritocracy — he is a 30-year career physicist who won the Nobel Prize for developing methods for cooling and trapping atoms with laser light. This is the last guy you could ever see handing out political favours.
Republicans apparently realised this about halfway through Chu’s testimony. So they switched to a more hostile line of attack — bullying the nerd.
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) told Chu he was a “riverboat gambler” and implied he was not competent enough to be in charge of the nation’s nuclear program. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), of BP apology fame, told Chu that “everyone and their dog at DOE” knew who Kaiser was. And Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) taunted: “I hope you don’t leave your brains at the door.”
Chu was totally unflappable, and gently reminded the Committee that he wasn’t the one who came up with the loan program in the first place. He noted that Congress even allotted $10 billion for credit risk — clearly someone knew ahead of time that bankruptcies were a possibility.
These remarks underscore the real problem with trying to make Chu the fall guy: No one person is to blame for the Solyndra debacle — the entire DOE loan program is seriously flawed. And taking cheap shots at shy nuclear physicists isn’t going to fix it.
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