Clovis Could Face Pressure

Trump Nominates Two Top USDA Undersecretary Positions

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Samuel H. Clovis Jr. is the senior White House adviser to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and is already being challenged about his possible nomination as Agriculture undersecretary for research, education and economics. (DTN graphic by Nick Scalise)

President Donald Trump late Wednesday announced his intention to nominate Ted McKinney as Agriculture undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs and Samuel H. Clovis Jr. as Agriculture undersecretary for research, education and economics.

The White House also said that Trump's previously announced nomination of Steve Censky to be Agriculture deputy secretary has been sent to the Senate. Censky is CEO of the American Soybean Association.

All three positions require Senate confirmation. Censky and McKinney are likely to be confirmed easily, but the Clovis nomination could face challenges.

McKinney is director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, serving since 2014 under now-Vice President Mike Pence and current Gov. Eric Holcomb, both Republicans.

McKinney grew up on a family grain and livestock farm in Tipton, Indiana. He also worked for 19 years with Dow AgroSciences and 14 years with Elanco, a subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Co., where he was director of global corporate affairs.

"His industry and civic involvements include the National FFA Conventions Local Organizing Committee, Indiana State Fair Commission, International Food Information Council (IFIC), the U.S. Meat Export Federation, International Federation of Animal Health (IFAH), and the Purdue Dean of Agriculture Advisory Committee," the White House noted in the announcement.

In his youth, McKinney was a 10-year 4-H member, an Indiana State FFA Officer, and a graduate of Purdue University, where he received a bachelor of science in agricultural economics in 1981. While at Purdue, he received the G.A. Ross Award as the outstanding senior male graduate. In 2002, he was named a Purdue agriculture distinguished alumnus and, in 2004, received an honorary American FFA degree.

Clovis is the senior White House adviser to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Most recently, he served as chief policy adviser and national co-chair of the Trump-Pence campaign.

He came to the campaign from Morningside College, where he was a professor of economics. Clovis holds a bachelor's degree in political science from the U.S. Air Force Academy, a master's in business administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco and a doctorate in public administration from the University of Alabama.

He is also a graduate of both the Army and Air Force War Colleges. After graduating from the Air Force Academy, Clovis spent 25 years serving in the Air Force. He retired as the inspector general of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the United States Space Command and was a command pilot. He is from rural central Kansas.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue praised both nominations.

Of McKinney, Perdue said, "For our new undersecretary position emphasizing international trade, I have always said that I want someone who wakes up every morning asking how we can sell more American agricultural products in foreign markets. Ted McKinney is that person. His longstanding background in agriculture, economic development, and global issues will make him an unapologetic advocate for U.S. products in the world marketplace."

As for Clovis, Perdue said, "Dr. Clovis was one of the first people through the door at USDA in January and has become a trusted adviser and steady hand as we continue to work for the people of agriculture. He looks at every problem with a critical eye, relying on sound science and data, and will be the facilitator and integrator we need. Dr. Clovis has served this nation proudly since he was a very young man, and I am happy he is continuing to serve."

Clovis' nomination is expected to be controversial because he does not have a scientific background or advanced degree in science, and the undersecretary position he would hold is also expected to be the USDA chief scientist.

Consumers Union wrote Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., that the organization hopes the Senate Agriculture Committee will uphold the Senate tradition in naming a scientist to the position.

In previous administrations, under both Republican and Democratic leadership, each of the five previous confirmed undersecretaries for research, education and economics has held a master's degree and doctorate in the natural sciences, Consumers Union noted.

"Over the past six months, there have been too many vacant leadership positions at the USDA. Our farmers, ranchers, and rural communities deserve strong and experienced leaders at the Department to make sure their voices are heard in this administration. I intend to take a close look at each nominee to ensure they are up for the task."

The Union of Concerned Scientists has also published a blog post against nominating Clovis. The group claimed Trump would violate the law because the law states that "the Under Secretary [of REE] shall be appointed by the president, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics." http://dld.bz/…

Clovis was also listed among Trump campaign officials by a long-time Republican activist who led an operation hoping to obtain Hillary Clinton emails from hackers, The Wall Street Journal said in a recent report. http://dld.bz/…

Stabenow issued a statement July 20 responding to Trump's announcement. "While Steve Censky and Ted McKinney stand out as experienced candidates to serve in USDA leadership roles, I have strong concerns that Sam Clovis is not qualified to be USDA Under Secretary of Research, Education, and Economics, which dually serves as the Department's Chief Scientist.

"This nominee seems to lack the necessary agricultural science and research qualifications that are required by the Farm Bill. I also have many questions about his troubling views on climate change and providing public investment in crop insurance and education," stated Stabenow.

"Over the past six months, there have been too many vacant leadership positions at the USDA. Our farmers, ranchers, and rural communities deserve strong and experienced leaders at the Department to make sure their voices are heard in this administration. I intend to take a close look at each nominee to ensure they are up for the task," she added.

(CC/ES)

Jerry Hagstrom