Cruz continues to fight Iowan’s USDA nomination; another ag nominee faces scrutiny amid Russia revelations

Source: By Joseph Morton, Omaha World Herald • Posted: Wednesday, November 1, 2017

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, shows no signs of lifting his blockade of Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey’s nomination to a top position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And another ag department nominee — ex-Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis, a former conservative radio talk show host from Iowa — is facing renewed opposition to his nomination to serve as the department’s chief scientist amid revelations that he encouraged a campaign adviser to foster ties with Russian officials.

Cruz and eight other senators from refinery-heavy areas have requested a meeting with administration officials over the Renewable Fuel Standard — federal mandates that they say are driving up costs for refiners and putting thousands of jobs in their states at risk.

“It’s an unsustainable situation,” Cruz told reporters Tuesday.

Cruz has not raised concerns about Northey’s qualifications to be the next undersecretary of farm production and conservation.

Rather, the nomination has become a point of leverage in a dispute over the RFS, which requires certain levels of ethanol, biodiesel and other renewables to be blended into the fuel supply.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, temporarily blocked a top Environmental Protection Agency nominee until the administration announced its support for a laundry list of pro-ethanol policies.

Now Cruz is pushing back by blocking the Northey nomination. In particular, his side complains that the price of credits used to show compliance with the RFS has been driven up by speculators.

“I believe there is a win-win that is good for Iowa corn farmers and good for Pennsylvania refinery workers,” Cruz said. “And it’s incumbent on all of us to reach solutions that actually work and produce jobs.”

But Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, rejected the idea of a meeting at the White House as “ludicrous” and a “waste of time” given that both the president and the EPA administrator have thrown their support behind the RFS.

“There’s no oil at the bottom of that Texas hole,” Grassley told The World-Herald.

But Northey’s supporters still need to figure out some kind of strategy, Grassley said, because Northey is much needed in his new position.

Grassley also said Tuesday that it’s too early to conclude that Clovis’ nomination will falter. He said that Clovis is cooperating with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation.

Newly released court documents show that Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos communicated with several senior campaign officials about his outreach to the Russian government over a period of months.