WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2016 - Farmers and ranchers are eagerly waiting to see who will lead USDA, EPA and other critical agencies, but it could be a while yet before those names are ready. Vice President-elect Mike Pence has been put in charge of overseeing agriculture policy and will likely have a say on Donald Trump’s selection as agriculture secretary, says House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas.
“My sense is that Trump has basically turned Ag toward Mike and said, ‘You know more about Ag than I do. Run that program.’ Clearly the secretary of Ag would be one of the first things he would have an influence on,” Conaway told Agri-Pulse.
Conaway said he doesn’t know who may be in the running for agriculture secretary and hasn’t been in contact with Pence since the Republican convention in July. But he says that as governor of Indiana, Pence understands that the farm economy is tough. “His constituents are dealing with a horrible Ag economy during those three years, so he now brings a perspective of good-hearted people trying to live with the circumstances they find themselves in,” Conaway said.
Mike Torrey, a former deputy chief of staff at USDA who now has his own lobbying firm, is advising the transition team on USDA. Other transition advisers include Myron Ebell, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, on EPA, and lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior. Bernhardt was solicitor general at Interior in the George W. Bush administration. His clients include mining companies, alternative energy firms and electric transmission companies that have issues with federal land usage.
However, another transition adviser is giving some in agriculture heartburn: Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state. Kobach has helped write state laws in Alabama and elsewhere that have cracked down on immigration, and he suggested in an interview this week that some illegal immigrants who haven’t committed crimes could be forced out of the country.
Conaway is confident that regulatory relief will be high on the new administration’s priority list, starting with the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule. He also expects the administration will kill EPA’s greenhouse house gas regulations for electric utilities and the Labor Department’s overtime rule, which has negatively affected many businesses.
The ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, also is looking for the new administration to kill chunks of President Obama’s regulatory agenda and slow the acquisition of public lands. “They’re going to roll back a lot of these regulations that farmers have been upset about. That will be seen as very positive,” Peterson said.
It’s less clear what the new administration will do on trade policy. Trump has promised to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership, renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and to classify China as a currency manipulator. “I’m hopeful that Mr. Trump will unleash his trade experts on the various agreements, find out what specifically is wrong with them, and work toward helping us to an understanding on that,” said Conaway.
Rural areas played a key role in Trump’s election. According to an analysis by NPR, Republican support in urban and suburban areas has changed little since 2008, but Republicans gained 9 points in rural areas while Democrats lost 11 points in support. Trump did much better in rural areas than the 2012 GOP candidate Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton fared much worse than Barack Obama, according to an analysis by The Daily Yonder.
Obama has suggested that Hillary Clinton didn’t spend enough time in rural areas. But Peterson said it’s Democratic policies that help Republicans. The lesson that some Democrats have drawn from the election “is that it wasn’t their fault – they just said the wrong things,” Peterson said. “They have no clue that their policies are driving people away from their party in rural America. They don’t get it.”
But here’s a cautionary note: Bob Stallman, former president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, doesn’t think the election results will fundamentally alter agriculture’s influence, and he thinks the Trump administration could pose a challenge for farmers on immigration.
“For the big issues, including a new farm bill, the major political players in the legislative process remain the same, as do the relevant interest groups,” Stallman said in an email. “Past administrations have attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to be a force in the process, but at the end of the day, rural issues, ag issues… like politics…. are mostly local.”
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