Bill Northey's nomination for undersecretary of farm production and conservation at USDA continues to be held hostage by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Cruz has now has a hold on Northey's nomination for 160 days, as of Thursday morning.
On Wednesday afternoon, Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, both from Iowa like Northey, went to the Senate floor to try to advance Northey's nomination to a Senate floor vote. They got help from a pair of Democrats, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Michigan.
Cruz still declined to release Northey's hold.
Stabenow called Northey "imminently qualified" for his position, which passed out of the Senate Ag Committee unanimously. "I believe he is a bright star in terms of the nominees and those who will be serving at the USDA," Stabenow said. Stabenow noted Northey's nomination "has languished in limbo" because of Cruz's hold.
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"His leadership is needed now, incluing the fact he would be in charge of disaster recovery for our farmers in Texas, in Florida and in Louisiana who are serving in the aftermath hurricanes, wildfire and drought," Stabenow added.
Northey is in his third elected term as Iowa's secretary of agriculture and he also farms in north-central Iowa.
Ernst called Northey "a tenacious advocate and true voice for agriculture and our rural communities." Ernst noted three times that Northey was unanimously confirmed out of committee. Ernst added, "Let's free Bill. Let's free Bill, folks!"
Klobuchar followed up. She challengd Cruz's continued problem of holding up qualified nominees on unrelated issues. Klobuchar pointed out Cruz once held up an ambassador nomination over the name of a street.
"This is a qualified nominee and the U.S. Senate should not be a place where someone of this qualification should be blocked just as we are considering a farm bill, just as we are dealing with disaster recovery all over the nation, including in places like Texas, like Florida and I just don't believe in this scorched Earth policy," Klobuchar said.
Grassley made his case that the debate over EPA Renewable Identification Numbers being an impediment to the refinery industry is an overblown argument.
Cruz, for his part, challenged his Democratic colleagues for not defending union jobs like he was doing. He said the ethanol lobbyists were at fault for Northey's hold for refusing to agree to change to the Renewable Fuels Standard. He blamed the bankruptcy of Philadelphia Energy Solutions on the RINs market, even though the company had a stash of RINs, and the whole point of RINs is to encourage investment in biofuels. Cruz said the ethanol industry was hurting corn farmers by refusing his overtures.
In the end, Cruz said Northey's hold could be ended next week if just everybody would play ball with him.
Other than demonstrating bipartisan support for Northey's nomination, the floor colloquy did highlight that Cruz is unwilling to bend to logic and he will continue holding up a good nominee.
If you wish to express your views on how Sen. Cruz is treating the 161-day hold on the nomination of Bill Northey, you can reach the senator's staff at (202) 224-5922.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN
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