As the presidential primary season kicks off this week, President Donald Trump will use his State of the Union message to try to sell the public on the strength of the economy and the progress he’s made on trade policy.
Tuesday night’s address to Congress, which will come just ahead of Trump’s expected acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, will be themed the “Great American Comeback,” according to a senior administration official.
The official told reporters that Trump will “lay out a vision of relentless optimism” and will be making the case that his new trade agreements, including the “phase one” deal with China, are “lifting up Americans everywhere.”
Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., will use the speech to highlight the House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would expand the H-2A visa program and provide a path to legal status for existing farmworkers who are in the country illegally.
He invited to the speech a former farmworker, Pablo Martinez, who worked in the fields of Monterey County for 16 years, harvesting and cultivating grapes, lettuce, strawberries, broccoli, onion, garlic and tomatoes. He graduated from a local community college in 2019. "For us as undocumented people, we deserve to have a path to citizenship because we work hard but at the same time we are in the shadows," Martinez said in a press release from Panetta's office.
Panetta said, "The willingness of people to take risks to come here and work hard here has greatly contributed to the success of our sustained food production on American soil."
The speech will come one day after the presidential caucuses in Iowa and one day before the Senate is expected to end the impeachment trial.
The caucuses will be a test, in part, of which candidates have been more effective in reaching rural voters. Democrats hope to cut into GOP margins in the rural Midwest in November, and at least 10 or so candidates consulted early in the race with former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, an ex-governor of Iowa who now heads the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
Most of the leading candidates released policy papers outlining proposals to help farmers and the rural economies.
Vilsack, who eventually endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, said he advised the candidates to campaign regularly in rural areas and to understand the issues rural areas face. He specifically advised them, he told Agri-Pulse, to be careful in how they talked about addressing climate change.
The advice he and other rural advocates gave is reflected in many of the candidates’ proposals to pay farmers for practices that store carbon in the soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Vilsack said the “issue of climate change needed to be discussed and conveyed in a way that wasn’t about the world is ending and sky is falling as some people like to articulate but with the opportunity that it could create with new jobs and new income streams.”
The latest RealClearPolitics average of polls in Iowa has Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leading Biden by 23.8% to 20.2%, followed by South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 15.8%, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 14.6% and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 9.6%.
Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is running fourth in national polls, but did not compete in Iowa.
Trump, meanwhile, is continuing to pursue new trade deals, and one of the potential new agreements could be with Kenya, whose president, Uhuru Kenyatta, will be in Washington this week and will meet with Trump on Thursday.
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Kenyatta's schedule also will include a forum hosted by the Atlantic Council on Wednesday, and he will be the guest of honor at an event Thursday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Trump administration officials have long said they are looking at an African nation as potential partners in a free-trade agreement, and U.S. government officials say Kenya is on the list of nations being considered.
The country of 47 million with a growing middle class is not a major importer of U.S. ag commodities, but that could change. Kenya imports about 85% of the wheat it consumes — roughly $355 million of the grain — but problems over export certification protocols for flag smut keep the U.S. out of the market, according to a USDA analysis.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Feb. 3
Noon — Heritage Foundation forum on the Trump administration’s new Navigable Waters Protection Rule, 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE.
Tuesday, Feb. 4
10 a.m. — Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee hearing on trucking issues, 216 Hart.
9 p.m. — State of the Union address, U.S. Capitol.
Wednesday, Feb. 5
Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show, San Antonio, Texas (through Saturday)
9 a.m. — Atlantic Council forum, “The Future of the U.S.-Kenya Strategic Partnership, 1030 15th St. NW.
10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 406 Dirksen.
11 a.m. — USDA releases Highlights From the February 2020 Farm Income Forecast.
Thursday, Feb. 6
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. — House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing, “Trade Infrastructure for Global Competitiveness,”
Friday, Feb. 7
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