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Perdue approved as secretary of agriculture

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Public Domain

The U.S. Senate April 24 voted to confirm the nomination of Gov. Sonny Perdue, R-GA, by a vote of 87-11, as secretary of agriculture. Perdue's cousin, Sen. David Perdue, R-GA, voted present. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, did not vote.

President Donald Trump Jan. 19 announced his intention to nominate Perdue. The secretary of agriculture’s job was the last Cabinet position for which Trump had not named a candidate.

Perdue, 70, is the first Southerner to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture since Mike Espy of Mississippi served in the position since the first year of the administration of President Bill Clinton.

He was to be sworn in April 25 by Supreme Court Justice and fellow Georgian Clarence Thomas at the Supreme Court and address USDA employees at the Whitten Building headquarters shortly thereafter.

Later in the day, he is expected to join Trump at the White House for a roundtable discussion with about 15 farm leaders from across the country. Following the discussion, Perdue and the farm leaders are expected to hold a media availability.

The action on the Senate floor April 24 centered on the vote to confirm Perdue’s nomination. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS, managed the nomination process, calling Perdue someone who will “put the needs of farmers, ranchers, and others in rural America first and lead us in both the House and the Senate to a productive trade policy and economic recovery in rural and small town America.”

Roberts could be seen on the Senate floor, hugging approving Democrats like Sen. Al Franken, D-MN, who not only gave the typical thumbs up sign to the recording clerk to note his “aye” vote, but was jumping up with his left hand in the air as if to signal his enthusiasm for Trump’s agriculture pick.

Rural advocate

Meanwhile, committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, while voting to confirm Perdue, called on him to be an advocate for rural communities despite what she said were the detrimental impact of the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts. The committee’s minority staff simultaneously released a new report entitled “President Trump is Turning his Back on Rural America,” which examines the impact the proposed cuts would have on rural communities.

Stabenow said USDA is in urgent need of leadership.

“We need a secretary of agriculture who will be a relentless advocate for our nation’s farmers and the important services USDA provides. For months, rural America has not had a voice in this administration, and it shows. President Trump’s budget proposal makes it clear that rural America is not a top priority for his administration.”

Last month, President Trump released his budget proposal calling to cut USDA’s discretionary budget by 21 percent, the third largest cut to any federal agency.

All Republicans voted to confirm Perdue. Notables to vote against the nomination were Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT; Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA; and the only member of the Senate Agriculture Committee to vote against the nomination, Sen. Kristin Gillibrand, D-NY.

Farm groups applaud

Farm groups were quick to respond to the confirmation.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said, “We are eager for agriculture to finally have a seat in the president’s cabinet, and we know Secretary Perdue is just as eager to get to work for farmers, consumers and rural America.”

“Secretary Perdue is a long-time friend to me and farmers across Georgia, and soon to the millions of men and women across our country who feed and clothe our nation. He is a real-world farmer himself and knows the business inside out…There’s important work ahead for the secretary, and he’ll need to address these challenges against the backdrop of the biggest drop in farm prices and income we’ve seen in decades.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said, “Having endured months of the current farm crisis and drastic policy changes in Washington without a secretary of agriculture, family farmers and ranchers are relieved that Sonny Perdue has finally been confirmed to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We are hopeful Perdue will provide rural America with a strong voice in Washington.

“Following his confirmation, Perdue will need to work immediately to address the depressed farm economy, offering assistance to struggling farmers across the country. We particularly look forward to working towards finding solutions for dairy producers, as discussed during the confirmation process. Additionally, NFU urges Perdue to quickly review and approve the long-overdue Farmer Fair Practices Rules, which will provide farmers and ranchers with basic protections against anti-competitive practices.”

Craig Uden, an Elwood, Nebraska, producer and president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said “Decisions made every day at the USDA have a significant impact on our ability to run our operations. We are excited to have a secretary that comes from the industry, understands the complexities of our business, and is willing to stand up and fight for the hard-working men and women in rural America. We are looking forward to working with Secretary Perdue in his new role leading the department of agriculture.”

A release from the National Corn Growers Association said, “The National Corn Growers Association congratulates Secretary Perdue on his confirmation. USDA has been without a secretary for too long, but we are confident that Secretary Perdue will bring strong leadership to the department. There are still more than 200 political appointments at USDA that have yet to be made. We strongly urge the administration to move quickly in filling these positions.

“We are ready to partner with Secretary Perdue and the rest of the administration to build a better farm economy. That begins with strong trade policy and continued investment in renewable fuels. It also means protecting risk management programs during a weak economy, and beginning preparations for the next farm bill. There is much work to do, and we are eager to begin.”