WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2017 – Controversial nominee Sam Clovis is no longer under consideration for a USDA undersecretary position. He withdrew his name from consideration in a letter to President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
Clovis’ nomination to be USDA’s Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics was controversial from the beginning based on comments he made as a conservative blogger and talk radio host. In recent days, the scrutiny grew as revelations linked him to the investigation into Russian interference in U.S. elections. Clovis was also reportedly interviewed by Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the investigation.
In his letter to Trump, Clovis said he was “eternally grateful and humbled” for the nomination, but said he did not “want to be a distraction or negative influence.”
“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” Clovis said. “The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day.”
Clovis also thanked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for his confidence and support. He also thanked Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan., for “being in my corner” through the nomination process.
“It saddens me that circumstances will not allow me to fulfill your, or their, expectations in that role,” Clovis said.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Roberts acknowledged it would have been a tough confirmation process for Clovis. He expected the nomination would have cleared out of the committee "on a partisan vote ... we don't normally do that in the ag committee." Ultimately, Roberts said Clovis made "a wise decision."
"I think he determined on his own it would be an uphill fight," Roberts said.
Critics of the nomination said Clovis lacked the necessary scientific credentials to lead USDA’s research efforts. There was also concern about his comments about race and homosexuality during his time as a conservative media personality and a brief run as a candidate for U.S. Senate from Iowa.
In a statement, Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, called the news "a victory for science and our farmers who rely on agricultural research.
"From day one, it was clear to me that Sam Clovis was the wrong choice for our farmers and ranchers," she said. "His lack of qualifications and long history of politically divisive statements were disqualifying, and the recent news surrounding his time as co-chair of the Trump campaign has raised even more questions."
Clovis was a key figure in the Trump presidential campaign, serving as a senior policy advisor and co-chair. After the election, he was named the White House liaison at USDA, a position he continues to hold.
(Story updated at 11:55 to include comment from Sen. Stabenow)
(Story updated at 1:00 to include comment from Sen. Roberts)
(Phil Brasher contributed to this story)
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