Perdue Facing More Delays

Ag Secretary Nominee Not Likely to Get Confirmation Vote Before Senate Easter Break

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Ag groups are calling on the Senate to approve Sonny Perdue as the new USDA secretary by the end of this week, but the Supreme Court fight in the Senate will likely derail that effort. (Photo from Senate confirmation hearing video)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Farm groups are pushing the U.S. Senate to vote on Sonny Perdue's confirmation as Agriculture secretary this week before senators go on an extended break, but the odds of Perdue getting cleared before the Easter break seem slim.

The Senate is expected to spend the entire week grappling with the nomination of federal Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The fight over Gorsuch could tie up the Senate and shut down consideration of political nominees or other issues as the two political parties fight over the number of votes required to advance Gorsuch's nomination.

Perdue, 70, the former governor of Georgia, was the last cabinet secretary nomination named by President Donald Trump in January. Critical background paperwork on Perdue did not make it to the Senate until last month. Perdue's nomination finally moved out of the Senate Agriculture Committee last Thursday by a voice vote with only Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., voicing opposition.

After Perdue's nomination advanced last week, 16 agricultural organizations wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., asking them to approve Perdue before the Senate's Easter break, which likely will begin at the end of business on Friday and go until April 21.

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The ag groups signing onto the letter noted that USDA "has been without political leadership for over two months, longer than nearly every other Cabinet-level agency." The groups added there is a growing list of issues at USDA, "particularly given the troubling economic conditions in rural America."

Right now, USDA also has to deal with appropriation battles for the current year and fiscal-year 2018 as well.

The agricultural groups argued Perdue's nomination should take a short amount of time but would allow USDA to move ahead.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and National Grain and Feed Association followed up Monday with further statements calling on the Senate to act.

"U.S. farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses -- and the consumers we serve -- need the strong, capable leadership at USDA that Gov. Perdue will provide," the two groups stated. "He is a dedicated, accomplished, innovative, problem-solving and proven public servant, and we need him at the USDA to begin addressing a backlog of policy issues that are awaiting his attention and to begin the process of filling key positions within the department. It also is vital to have Gov. Perdue engaged fully within the administration and with Congress on international trade, farm bill and regulatory issues affecting U.S. farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses."

Also awaiting Senate approval is Robert Lighthizer, the nominee for the U.S. trade ambassador. Lighthizer's nomination remains tied up in the Senate Finance Committee.

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

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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Chris Clayton