Perdue goes from leading contender to likely pick

Source: By Todd Tucker, Politico • Posted: Thursday, January 5, 2017

PERDUE GOES FROM LEADING CONTENDER TO LIKELY PICK: The Agriculture secretary sweepstakes got even sunnier for Sonny Perdue on Wednesday, with two sources telling POLITICO that President-elect Donald Trump is poised to nominate the former Georgia governor to lead the USDA. The intel follows POLITICO Playbook’s scoop on Monday that Perdue was the leading candidate for the job, one of the final two Cabinet posts left for Trump to fill (Veterans Affairs secretary is the other).

Perdue, a Republican who served two terms as Georgia governor (2003 to 2011), grew up on a row farm in the Peach State, earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Georgia in 1971, and owns a number of grain- and feed-processing, farm transportation and crop export companies. He would be the first Southerner to lead USDA in more than two decades. Despite his ag cred and qualifications, Perdue appeared to fade into the background between Nov. 30, when he traveled to Trump Tower wearing a tie with tractor designs on it for his interview, and this week, as a wide array of candidates met with either Trump or Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday that Trump has been searching for the “most qualified” person to run the department — something his agricultural advisers started to doubt when it appeared Trump wanted to use the USDA post to help diversify a Cabinet dominated by white men. Of the five contenders who met with Trump or top advisers last week, three are Latino and two are women. Trump’s delay in making the pick has many farmers and ranchers in rural America wondering whether the Manhattan billionaire forgot who helped him win the White House.

The clock is ticking. Trump’s inauguration is little more than two weeks away, and many of the Cabinet picks have begun meeting with senators on Capitol Hill to expedite the nomination process. Trump’s Agriculture secretary pick, compared with nominees for other Cabinet posts, will have less time to get up to speed at a department with more than 100,000 employees and a budget of roughly $140 billion. And things are about to start popping in the Senate, where committees begin holding confirmation hearings next week, with a six-pack scheduled for Wednesday. Trump also has scheduled for that day an all-important press conference to discuss his plans for how he’ll handle his business interests while in the White House, so next week promises to be a busy one for the transition team.

HAPPY THURSDAY, JAN. 5!: Welcome to Morning Ag, where your host doesn’t know whether to be happy or sad that she hasn’t tasted this “vile and amazing” beef envelope. You know the deal: thoughts, news, tips? Send them to and @ceboudreau. Follow the whole team at @Morning_Ag.

PRUITT GETS 50-QUESTION CONFIRMATION HEARING PREVIEW: For a sneak peek of what Oklahoma Attorney General and prospective future EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt might expect in his Senate confirmation hearing — a date for which has not been set — look no further than the more than 50 questions he’s been asked by Sen. Tom Carper ranking member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. The questions were raised in a letter sent by Carper on Dec. 28, a copy of which was obtained by Pro Energy’s Anthony Adragna. It gives Pruitt until Jan. 9 to respond and warns the early critic of the Obama administration’s Waters of the U.S. rule that Democrats on EPW “are deeply troubled by some of [his] past actions and comments.”

The letter asks Pruitt to provide information on the scientific advisers he used in litigation against the agency and for an explanation of his 2013 statement that the Renewable Fuel Standard was “unworkable.” It also asks whether he would back congressional efforts to overturn late-term Obama administration EPA regulations.

But the agriculture industry’s cheering section will be loud for Pruitt. In a letter sent Wednesday to newly named EPW Chairman John Barrasso and Carper, Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, highlights Pruitt’s leadership in the fight against WOTUS, arguing that the agency overstepped the bounds laid by Congress and the Supreme Court.

Pruitt appears to have a few fans on the EPW committee, too, including Barrasso and Republican Senator and Nebraska cattle rancher Deb Fischer. Barrasso met with Pruitt on Tuesday and, in a statement afterward, praised the nominee for his “excellent insights on how to help the EPA better meet its mission of protecting the environment while growing the American economy.”

Fischer also had complimentary things to say about Pruitt. In a statement that features a picture of their meeting Tuesday afternoon, the senator said that her discussion with Pruitt “focused on how he intends to unroll these reams of federal red tape and put the agency back on the right track.”

BIOFUELS BRIEFING: Pruitt will meet with Sen. Chuck Grassley and six other Republican Midwestern senators today to talk biofuels. Grassley, who has not declared a position on the prospective EPA administrator, said in a tweet that he plans to “grill” him on the importance of ethanol. Grassley will be joined at the meeting by Sens. John Thune, Joni Ernst, Mike RoundsRoy Blunt, Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Deb Fischer.

Trump touted ethanol during the campaign and recently reassured Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad about his support for biofuels. But biofuel backers have been unsettled by Trump’s nomination of Pruitt, who has criticized the RFS, and naming of Carl Icahn — who has pressed to change the program — as a regulatory adviser.

BIG SODA DISPUTES LAWSUIT ALLEGING MISLEADING ADS: The American Beverage Association and Coca-Cola on Wednesday fought back against a new lawsuit alleging they intentionally misled consumers about the health implications of drinking soda, arguing the case has no merit. The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed the lawsuit in an Oakland, Calif., federal court on behalf of the nonprofit Praxis Project, accusing the soda industry of violating California laws against unfair competition and false advertising by spending “billions of dollars on misleading and deceptive promotions and advertising that have enormous appeal to consumers, including children.”

ABA, in a statement, said U.S. beverage companies are engaging with health groups and community organizations to reduce the amount of sugar and calories Americans get from drinks, particularly in areas with high obesity rates, and “unfounded accusations” like those in the complaint do nothing to address health concerns. Coca-Cola, in a statement of its own, described the allegations as “legally and factually meritless” while touting its efforts to expand low- and no-calorie products, offer more drinks in smaller sizes, reduce added sugars and be more transparent about the research it funds.

CSPI’s lawsuit cites scientific research that appears to overwhelmingly link the consumption of soda to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Coca-Cola, which helps direct and fund the ABA, explicitly denies these links in the face of a backlash against sugary drinks and existing and prospective local soda taxes, the group says. CSPI is asking that the defendants fund a campaign to educate the public about the health risks associated with drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, and cease “all deceptive advertising and promotions” that imply drinking sugary beverages isn’t linked to health problems.

NO CORNHUSKERS REPPING IT ON AG COMMITTEES: For the first time since 1969, Nebraska won’t be represented on the Senate Agriculture Committee now that Ben Sasse has left to take seats on the Armed Services and Judiciary committees, the Omaha World-Herald reported Wednesday. Sasse, in an interview with the news outlet, defended his decision, arguing that the new assignments will allow him to participate in two of the biggest debates in Congress over the next two years — filling the Supreme Court vacancy and further developing a national security strategy to combat cyber warfare and the Islamic jihad. And he said he plans to be just as active on the upcoming negotiations over the next farm bill.

Nebraska, which ranks among the top five states in terms of agricultural output, also lost its representation on the House Agriculture Committee when Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford was defeated in his re-election bid by Republican Don Bacon. There is no guarantee that Bacon will land a spot on the panel, though new members have yet to be announced. Read the full story from the World-Herald here.

Worth noting: Sasse’s appointment to Senate Armed Services also produced a congressional committee quirk. As Pro Defense’s Connor O’Brien reports, it “means both Nebraska senators will sit on Armed Services, a rarity for senators from the same state and party. Sen. Deb Fischer is already the panel’s fifth most senior Republican.”

INTERIOR LAYS OUT (WATER)WAY AHEAD IN CALI: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Wednesday issued a roadmap for federal agencies facing several looming decisions on drought, climate change and endangered species in California — nearly all of which will fall to the Trump administration. The Secretarial Orderdirects federal agencies on issues ranging from an environmental review of California Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial WaterFix project to efforts to help an endangered fish species whose fate is intertwined with water supply for central and southern California farmers and communities, particularly during the state’s entrenched drought. Read more from Pro’s Energy’s Annie Snider here.

ACROSS THE POND: BREXIT’S NEGATIVE IMPACT ON FARMERS: British politicians warned on Wednesday that UK farmers face “triple jeopardy” from Brexit, reports POLITICO Europe’s Emmet Livingstone. A report released by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee raised concerns about Brexit’s potentially detrimental effect on environmental legislation, because much of the UK’s biodiversity and land-management rules are now covered under European Union directives, known as Common Agricultural Policy.

The report said that leaving CAP, which makes up between 50 to 60 percent of some farm incomes, would “threaten the viability of some farms,” and future trade deals also could threaten farm incomes by imposing tariffs and non-tariff barriers on the British agricultural sector. Lastly, the report said new trading relationships would risk increasing “competition from countries with lower food standards, animal welfare standards and environmental protection,” which could put farmers at a competitive disadvantage.

Politicians called for greater clarity on the government’s post-Brexit policy plans before initiating formal exit negotiations. “The government must not trade away these key protections as we leave the EU. It should also give clarity over any future farm subsidies,” said British MP Mary Creagh, who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee.

Bird flu spreads: In Bulgaria, an outbreak has now been detected at some 26 farms, nearly double the number released on Dec. 30, Reuters reports. The country’s Agriculture Ministry plans to cull more than a hundred thousand birds, and a nationwide ban on hunting game birds was established. The country already had put in place a prohibition on poultry markets. In recent weeks, countries like Germany, France, Ireland and Israel have detected the same strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

SO WHAT IS IN SUSAN COMBS’ NOVEL? When the news broke that former Texas agriculture commissioner Susan Combs was in the running to be Trump’s Agriculture secretary, it seemed like her brief career as a romance novelist garnered more attention than her extensive policy chops. (Full disclosure: MA’s coverage mentioned the novel.) So, as any good journalist would do, MA bought a copy of “A Perfect Match” for a bit of light reading over the holidays.

Our conclusions? The espionage-themed narrative’s references to payphones and the Cold War are delightful; the dialogue leaves a bit to be desired; and it’s reallyracy. Lots of mentions of quivering, among, ahem, other terms, and men opening apartment doors in towels. Take this quote, which describes the first kiss between Emily and Ross, the two lovers at the heart of the novel’s … action: “Her lips parted and the slight brush of his tongue sent a bolt of fire through her. Her heart sped up, and she trembled, dimly aware of the receding footsteps.” The book gets racier from there.

While MA doesn’t want to play the spoiler, suffice it to say the book is a solid distraction from the never-ending Agriculture secretary watch. Looking for a way to ease the wait? MA found the book on Amazon.


— Brazil’s newly expanded northern ports can’t operate at full capacity because unpaved roads delay farm commodities from reaching the coast, Bloomberg reports.

— A group of veterinarians from Mexico filed a federal human trafficking lawsuit against an Idaho dairy operation, alleging they were forced to work as laborers but had been promised they would oversee animal health and reproductive programs, the AP reports.

— Kimbal Musk (Elon Musk’s brother) has opened a shipping-container farm in New York City, Business Insider reports.

— In case you missed it, Minnesota county officials want to delay a buffer program designed to prevent agricultural runoff, the AP reports.