Washington Insider -- Thursday

Pushback on Dreamer Termination

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Vietnam Reopens Its Market to US DDGs

Vietnam has notified the U.S. it will resume imports of U.S. distillers dried grains (DDGs) after having suspended its imports of the U.S. product in December 2016, USDA and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced Wednesday.

Prior to the December 2016 action, Vietnam was the third largest market for U.S. DDGs with shipments of more than $230 million in 2016. Vietnam halted the imports after it reported quarantine pests in shipments.

Besides DDGs, the two U.S. agencies said this also opens the way for corn and wheat shipments, which were restricted due to previous treatment requirements.

The DDG issue was among those raised by President Donald Trump when Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited Washington in May along with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and USTR Robert Lighthizer. Following the series of meetings, the two governments released a joint statement pledging to work closely together to resolve the DDGs issue, USTR said.

“This is great news and I am pleased that the U.S. exporters will once again be able to ship DDGs to Vietnam, which is one of the fastest-growing global markets for U.S. agriculture,” said Perdue. "Expanding markets around the world can only help American agriculture.”

Trump Announces More Appointments, Including Key USDA Posts

President Donald Trump announced more than three dozen White House appointments late Friday night. He tapped Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., to run NASA and Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., to become the next drug czar. Marino previously turned down the position citing a family illness. These nominations will mean special elections in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. Both seats are solidly conservative.

The president also announced long-awaited nominees for key USDA posts. Trump announced Gregory Ibach as Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs (MRP), Bill Northey as Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC), and Stephen Vaden as USDA’s General Counsel.

The Undersecretary for MRP oversees three USDA agencies: the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; the Agricultural Marketing Service; and the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration.

The Undersecretary for FPAC oversees three USDA agencies: the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Risk Management Agency.

Washington Insider: Pushback on Dreamer Termination

Bloomberg is reporting this week that the President’s decision to end the program preventing the deportation of immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children “risks a deep wedge between the Republican Party’s leaders and its conservative base ahead of next year’s congressional elections.”

In announcing an end to the program in the next six months, Trump called on Congress to pass legislation to codify the protections the previous administration created for about 800,000 people, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

However, the decision apparently went against the advice of senior party leaders like Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who said in a statement that he called Trump last week to urge him to preserve the program. In addition, the administration apparently did not “consult much with business leaders or allies outside the White House,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg suggests that the decision adds significantly to the already crowded fall agenda and could create a new pressure point in the form of a sharp backlash over the decision by Democrats and some Republicans. The President did tweet on Tuesday that he may be open to reversing course but offered no details to back it up, Bloomberg said.

For some Republicans up for re-election next year, such as Senators Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., DACA is a minefield to navigate. Immigration hardliners on the right will have great influence in Republican primary elections, while more moderate voters will be key in their contests with Democratic opponents, said Jennifer Duffy, Senate editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report. “Democrats would love to have this issue alive and well in the primary season,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that if DACA legislation isn’t approved in September, lawmakers from his party are likely to try to attach it to other measures.

“I am confident that if put on the floor, it will garner overwhelming support,” Schumer told reporters Monday.

“From a Republican party point of view, this is a defining moment,” Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Tuesday at a news conference with the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to urge passage of legislation protecting immigrants in the DACA program.

By contrast, Representative Steve King, R-Iowa, who urged Trump over the weekend to end the program outright, said that a delay to let Republican leadership develop legislation codifying the protections, which he considers “amnesty,” would be “Republican suicide.”

“I think this is more emotional than Obamacare, and I think this is difficult,” said Alice Stewart, a Republican communications consultant who worked on Senator Ted Cruz’s, R-Texas, presidential bid. “I have seen more heated arguments over immigration reform than Obamacare.”

The Republican Party has struggled to improve its appeal with Latino voters, even though there has been little change in policy. But among much of Trump’s base, any such legislation is derided as “amnesty” for people who have violated U.S. law, and the lawmakers who support it are likely to be opposed by those voters, Bloomberg said.

Although the President has laid out a deadline for the program, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other Republican leaders haven’t indicated when or how they’ll consider legislation to preserve it. Ryan said in a statement that he hopes Congress will pass a bill that "includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country."

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was even less committal. “This Congress will continue working on securing our border and ensuring a lawful system of immigration that works,” he said in a statement.

A number of vulnerable Republican senators and House members could see their 2018 re-election campaigns threatened by a protracted congressional debate over DACA.

Flake and Heller, the two Senate Republicans most at risk of losing their seats, both have sizable Latino populations in their states and support preserving DACA’s protections. Republican House members with similar demographics in their districts have taken the same position, including Mike Coffman, R-Colo., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla.

Flake and Heller both face Republican primary opponents who are sticking close to Trump on immigration issues.

It is too early to attempt to assess the impact of the “dreamer” debate on the President’s agenda, but the addition of yet another bitter fight to the battles over trade, tax reform, health care, the budget and others likely is not good news for agriculture, especially just ahead of the coming farm bill debate. Certainly, this is another powerful issue that should be watched closely by producers as it unfolds, Washington Insider believes.

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