Ag Policy Blog

Liberal Groups Lining Up Against Ag Secretary Candidate

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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As names come up for possible contenders to run USDA under a Biden administration, some liberal groups are coming out against one of the candidates most frequently mentioned for the position. (DTN file photo)

A battle on the political left is setting up over the nomination for Agriculture Secretary as liberal groups are pushing back against one of the names being floated for the position.

On Tuesday, groups representing "environmental, animal welfare, public health and sustainable agriculture" plan to release a letter calling on President-elect Joe Biden to not nominate former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp for the top USDA job. The groups state Heitkamp should not be considered "due to her record championing climate-destroying factory farms, cutting SNAP nutrition benefit and sidelining family farm interests in favor of agriculture."

At least some of the same groups opposed to Heitkamp are backing Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, for Agriculture Secretary.

“Throughout her career, Congresswoman Fudge has been an unparalleled ally to consumers, farmers, food-chain workers and rural communities, and we urge President-elect Biden to make her the next secretary of agriculture," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Action. "Now more than ever, as the Trump administration currently seeks to decimate food inspection rules, we need a champion like Rep. Fudge leading the way in restoring common-sense food safety standards in America."

Dan Glickman, an Agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration and a former member of the House from Kansas, told DTN that Biden needs an Agriculture secretary who can address the broad range of issues that USDA faces, have good relations with Congress and travel a lot.

Without commenting on any of the candidates, Glickman noted that “People historically have viewed the Agriculture Department as not important, but it touches people's lives more than any other department in government.”

“The Agriculture position is different than a lot of the others because of the congressional role. Congress has always believed ag is in their branch. Ag has historically been bipartisan so it's important to pick someone who can work across the aisle,” said Glickman, who is a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and co-leads the center's Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative.

Presidents have usually picked a secretary who has been active in farm policy making, Glickman said, but USDA needs a secretary who can also address conservation, nutrition programs, food safety, research and forestry.

Little attention is paid to the fact that the Agriculture Department includes the U.S. Forest Service, but it has more employees than any other division of USDA, Glickman noted. One of the last acts that he approved as secretary, he said, was the rule against building roads in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. The Trump administration recently reversed that rule even though it had stood for 20 years, Glickman said.

Glickman also pointed out that USDA is unique among Cabinet agencies in that it has offices in every state and county in the country. The Agriculture secretary appoints state Farm Service Agency and Rural Development directors, he noted. He added that the Agriculture secretary is expected to travel a lot around the country and abroad.

Glickman added that his 18 years of experience on the House Agriculture Committee “did make a difference” in his ability to get the job and manage the department. Then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole-R.-Kan., supported him for Ag secretary, a job that requires Senate confirmation, he said, although he joked that maybe Dole just wanted to get him out of Kansas.

Glickman had been defeated in his 1994 re-election bid when President Bill Clinton picked him to succeed Mike Espy as secretary.

If Democrats had won more House seats, Glickman, he would have expected Biden to pick some House members for Cabinet posts, but instead the Democrats lost seats. But presidents often look to House members who have lost seats for appointments, he added.

(The only House member who lost his seat and might be a candidate for secretary would be House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn.)

Glickman said he expects Biden to focus on national security appointments before other Cabinet posts. He also said he expects diversity, whether it is more women or minority appointees, to be more important in Biden's choices than previous administrations.

Among other names being considered for USDA Secretary is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who also could be a candidate for Attorney General, according to CNBC.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@nationaljournal.com

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport

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