Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Senate fiddles as rural America burns waiting for ag secretary

Sonny Perdue will be confirmed as the nation’s 31st Secretary of Agriculture. It’s just a matter of whether it will occur before or after the U.S. Senate goes on vacation.

Ahead of their recess, the Senate is obsessed with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s fate and time seems to be slipping away for also getting the Perdue vote done before the break. A delay until after the Senate returns on April 24 means that Senate confirmation of the President’s nominee to run the $140 billion a year U.S. Department of Agriculture will have taken more than three months.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue is president-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of agriculture.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue is President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of agriculture.

The calendar has not given the former Georgia governor any breaks. He was President Trump’s last cabinet appointment and found himself in line waiting for financial, background and FBI checks. When it was finally scheduled, his confirmation hearing was a love-in.

No Trump cabinet appointee has as large an audience of supporters than does Perdue.

“Sonny Perdue has garnered the unsolicited endorsement of more than 700 agriculture-related organizations and six former Secretaries of Agriculture,” Perdue backers said in an April 4 statement calling for an immediate confirmation vote.

Yet, the Senate vote was held up by “holds” placed on the Perdue confirmation by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL. Perdue apparently had to clarify his confirmation hearing remarks about Cuba. Perdue favors a financing scheme for credit purchases of U.S. agricultural products by Cuba, instead of the current all-cash status.

Menendez’s hold and Rubio’s concerns were removed after the parties had conversations about the issue on April 4.

Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, said its unlikely the credit package for Cuba will gain congressional approval.

Perdue supporters told the Senate that pressing business make it imperative that Perdue’s confirmation vote be held immediately, including the wildfire crisis that has burned 1.5 million acres. They said the wildfires, in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, “would normally be something for the agriculture secretary to handle.”

The bipartisan leadership of the House Agriculture Committee has also wrote Senate leaders to let them know its time to vote on Perdue. They pointed to the wildfires and the discovery of highly pathogenic avian influenza along the Mississippi Flyway. “Senate neglect of USDA secretary nominee Perdue confirmation vote leaves America’s heartland in despair,” according to the House leaders.

The next 48 hours will tell if that vote occurs sooner rather than much latter. It also could occur very quickly as Sen. Roberts has suggested there could be unanimous agreement to limit debate for a voice vote.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

© Food Safety News