Bipartisan votes push 2 USDA nominees to Senate floor

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Senate Agriculture Committee yesterday swiftly approved two nominees for posts at the Department of Agriculture.

By voice vote and with no objections, the panel advanced the nominations for Stephen Censky to be deputy secretary of Agriculture — the department’s No. 2 position — and Ted McKinney to be undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs.

The committee’s ranking member, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), said the quick approval demonstrates the panel’s ability to approve candidates for USDA on a bipartisan basis.

“We are seeing a number of excellent nominees coming through,” Stabenow told reporters after the votes.

The bipartisan agreement on Censky and McKinney contrasts to the discord over the administration’s selection of Sam Clovis, a former conservative radio host and economics professor, for undersecretary for research, education and economics.

In that case, Clovis’ lack of science background and his past comments on racial politics have prompted concerns from Stabenow and other Democrats. He hasn’t had a nomination hearing, and Stabenow said she hasn’t met with Clovis, although she said she expects to.

Clovis’ supporters say a science background isn’t critical, although the farm bill calls for it, and that his close ties to President Trump from the presidential campaign will give agricultural research a well-placed voice.

Stabenow said she doesn’t know whether opposition to Clovis would be enough to sink his nomination, which needs 51 votes in the Republican-led Senate. She has urged the administration to withdraw the nomination.

“We’ve had a lot of good nominees, but this is just not a gentleman who I believe is appropriate for this position,” Stabenow said.