Vilsack Backs Perdue as his USDA Successor
On the same day that Senate Democrats toughened their opposition to President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he supports Sonny Perdue as his successor at USDA. With Vilsack, Perdue “is the only cabinet nominee to secure the support of his predecessor in the Obama administration,” said the Trump transition team.
The statement grew out of a telephone conversation last weekend between the former two-term governors, said a transition official. “They worked (together) in the past” and had a lively conversation about USDA. Through a spokesman, Vilsack confirmed his support of Perdue.
“I have had the opportunity to work with Governor Perdue and know how committed he is to all of our farmers, ranchers, and producers regardless of size or production method (to) expand markets here and throughout the world,” said Vilsack in the three-paragraph statement. “As a former governor, he knows full well the opportunities and challenges that exist in rural communities. He will, I am sure, work hard to expand opportunity in rural America.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Perdue would be the fourth in a string of former governors to head USDA, which has more than 90,000 employees, a budget of $150 billion a year, and a portfolio stretching from farm subsides and food stamps to national forests and agriculture research laboratories. “As a former governor, he will understand and pay attention to the many and varied interests that depend on the department, including efforts to provide all of us, and especially our children, with safe, nutritious, and affordable food,” said Vilsack.
Perdue is meeting senators this week in get-acquainted sessions that customarily precede confirmation hearings. Vilsack begins work today as chief executive of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, a trade group. He spoke for himself, and not his new employer, in supporting Perdue.
Senate Democrats prevented a Finance Committee vote on two of President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees – Steven Mnuchin for Treasury and Tom Price for Health and Human Services – and tried to block his nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, when the Judiciary Committee met.
Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the senior Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, announced opposition to Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator, saying he has “a record of siding with polluters over sound science” and opposing biofuels. Two other Agriculture Committee members, Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bob Casey (D-PA), said they opposed Mnuchin and Price.
The final choice for Trump’s cabinet – announced on the day before the new president took office – Perdue has attracted little of the controversy surrounding Pruitt, who sued EPA 14 times while Oklahoma attorney general, or burger baron Andy Puzder, the nominee for labor secretary. The major farm groups welcomed Perdue, a veterinarian by training and operator of agribusinesses, as a friend of mainstream agriculture.
Perdue was the first Republican to be elected governor of Georgia since Reconstruction, serving from 2003-2011. Vilsack was Iowa governor from 1999-2007.