USDA Needs Leadership; White House Pushes for Ag Sec.Confirmation – DTN

    The White House is urging the Senate to confirm Sonny Perdue, President Donald Trump’s nominee for agriculture secretary, before Congress leaves for the week-long Presidents Day break this month, a Trump transition team source told DTN on Friday.

    Presidents Day is Monday, Feb. 20, but if the Senate follows its usual schedule, it is likely to go out of session on Friday, Feb. 17 or even the evening before.

    The Senate Agriculture Committee has not scheduled a confirmation hearing for Perdue. A Senate Agriculture Committee spokeswoman said the committee has not yet received documents about Perdue and cannot schedule the hearing until those documents are received.

    The main reason for urging the Senate to act as quickly as possible is to provide leadership at USDA, the source said. A confirmation vote before the Senate leaves for the break would also allow Perdue to speak at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum, which will be held Feb. 23-24 in Arlington, Va. That conference usually attracts a large audience, including foreigners, in the first year of a presidential term.

    If Perdue is not confirmed before the forum, the administration will have “representation” at the event, the source said.

    Farm groups also have rallied to get Perdue confirmed. On Thursday, a letter from 669 agricultural groups describing Perdue as “eminently qualified” was sent to key lawmakers. The letter was released by the Trump transition team, which is overseeing Perdue’s confirmation process. The letter was written “on behalf of the farmers, ranchers, hunters, forest owners, cooperatives, businesses, trade associations, and all other segments of the agriculture, food and nutrition, landscape, and conservation community.”

    After learning of the letter, Perdue said, “I’m honored that so many organizations came together to support my nomination. The USDA impacts every corner of America and if approved by the U.S. Senate, I will do my best to serve the way I have lived my life, run my businesses, and governed as an elected official … with integrity.”

    If Perdue does not get confirmed before the Senate break, the “drop dead” date for confirmation is Feb. 28, when Trump is scheduled to give the state-of-the-union speech to a joint session of Congress.

    The transition team source said Perdue’s vetting is relatively easy because he “had his life investigated” when he ran for governor of Georgia. His financial disclosure information needed only to be updated for the period since he left office in 2011, the source noted.

    Farm Policy

    Perdue has been working out of the office of his cousin, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., to schedule individual meetings with senators, and he has also met with agricultural leaders and has been having policy briefings, the source added.

    Perdue has met with 16 senators individually and had casual encounters with others, the source said. The transition team provided a list of the senators with whom Perdue has met in the order they have taken place.

    After his meeting with Perdue, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the two discussed the importance of building a coalition to pass a new farm bill and maintaining strong crop insurance options for farmers and ranchers.

    “Sonny and I worked together as governors for eight years and he has a solid reputation for working in a bipartisan way,” said Hoeven. “He also understands the importance of our agriculture industry to our economy and knows the challenges facing producers and rural communities.”

    Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said of his meeting with Perdue, “He has an impressive understanding of American agriculture and agribusiness. I appreciate his knowledge of the issues that are important to Mississippi as part of the overall process of growing the food and fiber that sustains our country and the world. I am hopeful that the Senate will act favorably on his nomination as soon as possible.”

    Follow Jerry on Twitter @Hagstromreport

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