Senate Finally Confirms Trump’s Agriculture Secretary Three Months After Nomination

Thomas Phippen | Reporter

The Senate voted to confirm former Georgia Gov. George Ervin “Sonny” Perdue III as President Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary Monday, more than three months after he was nominated.

The Senate confirmed Perdue’s nomination with 87 affirmative votes. Eleven of the 46 Democrats voted nay. Perdue will be sworn in as the 31st secretary of agriculture Tuesday.

It has been 96 days since Trump nominated Perdue to lead the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Jan. 18, just days before the inauguration.

Perdue had the longest confirmation process of any Trump cabinet nominee confirmed so far and the fifth longest in the history of the U.S.

Three of President Barack Obama’s nominees were confirmed more than 100 days after being nominated. Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s nomination process lasted 161 days, according to FiveThirtyEight. One of former President Bill Clinton’s nominees also waited more than 100 days before receiving a confirmation vote.

Trump has blamed the long confirmation process, which he claims is the “longest such delay in the history of our country,” on “obstruction by Democrats.” In Perdue’s case, it took two months for the Trump administration to send the financial disclosure paperwork the Senate needed to schedule a hearing with the Committee on Agriculture. (RELATED: White House Finally Sends The Senate Some Paperwork On Sonny Perdue)

Despite the long confirmation process, Perdue sailed easily through his confirmation hearing March 23, gaining the support of several Democrats, including North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and Tom Vilsack, the previous secretary of agriculture under former President Barack Obama.

Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, said there’s an urgent need for an agriculture advocate in the Trump administration.

“For months, rural America has not had a voice in this administration — and it shows,” Stabenow said in a statement Monday. “President Trump’s budget proposal makes it clear that rural America is not a top priority for his administration.”

Trump’s first budget proposal included cutting the Agriculture Department’s discretionary budget by $4.7 billion down to $17.9 billion.

Perdue will have a long list of tasks when he begins work at the USDA later this week. His tasks include preparing for the farm appropriations bill due in 2018 and balancing the administration’s desire to renegotiate trade deals that many farmers rely on.

Perdue’s primary goal for the USDA is “to remove every obstacle, and give [farmers] every opportunity to prosper,” allowing rural America to build businesses, create jobs, and continue growing the nation’s food, Perdue said during his confirmation hearing. He will manage crop subsidies and insurance programs, rural development grants, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, also known as food stamps.

Perdue is a strong advocate for agricultural trade and has promised to work with Trump on NAFTA and other trade deals to make sure agricultural interests are well represented.

One of the most pressing trade issues is the dairy industry’s longstanding complaint that Canada has been favoring its own dairy products by placing tariffs on U.S. milk products, contrary to the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). (RELATED: Some Farmers Are Really Freaked About Trump’s Plan To Kill NAFTA)

Trump brought attention to the issue during his speech in Kenosha, Wisc., April 18, where he criticized NAFTA’s effect on Wisconsin’s dairy industry.

“In Canada, some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers, and others, and we are going to start working on that,” Trump said. “It’s another typical one-sided deal against the United States. And it’s not going to be happening for long.”

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