WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2016 - President-elect Donald Trump has taken steps needed to get his administration up and running at USDA, EPA, and other agencies important to agriculture. There has been little evidence, however, that Trump is close to naming an agriculture secretary or appointees to run those other agencies.
On Monday, Trump announced leaders of his domestic agency “landing teams,” groups that will work with existing officials to coordinate the handover of power and pave the way for the appointed officials who will eventually take over the agencies.
Joel Leftwich, Republican staff director for the Senate Agriculture Committee, was assigned to lead the transition effort at the Department of Agriculture, a possible sign that Trump’s USDA will work closely with Capitol Hill and agriculture interests. There’s no one in Washington more familiar than Leftwich with the new GMO disclosure law. Implementation of the law will arguably be the most important item on the new agriculture secretary’s to-do list.
Other transition advisers also are notable because of what their involvement may signal about the administration’s policy approach. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell, a leading climate skeptic and critic of the Renewable Fuel Standard, will be leading the transition at EPA. Meanwhile, a leading proponent of the Cuba embargo, Mauricio Claver-Carone, was assigned to the transition team at the Treasury Department. He is executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates and runs the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC.
Trump has named two transition advisers at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office: Trade lawyer Robert Lighthizer and former steel executive Dan DiMicco, who advised the Trump campaign on trade policy.
Lighthizer, a deputy U.S. trade representative during the Reagan administration and an aide to then-Sen. Robert Dole, has been representing heavy manufacturing, agricultural and high-tech companies, according to his firm’s bio.
DiMicco, former CEO of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Nucor Corp., told the Charlotte Observer in June that he urged Trump to keep saying what he had been saying about U.S. trade policy. “He needs to hold the world accountable to playing by the rules,” DiMicco said.
A number of names have been floating around Washington as possibilities for agriculture secretary, but filling the position is thought to be low on the list of Trump’s priorities. For comparison, President Obama didn’t announce his nomination of Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary until Dec. 17, 2008, six weeks after the election.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin could be in the running for Interior Secretary. She met with Trump on Monday, and a readout of the meeting released by the transition office said she and Trump “engaged in a conversation surrounding Native American affairs” and also “touched on critical issues around increasing energy independence including alternatives for energy consumption.”
Meanwhile, no one believed to be a potential agriculture secretary has been identified publicly as having met with Trump, although sources tell Agri-Pulse that Charles Herbster, who chaired Trump’s agricultural advisory committee, met with the President-elect shortly after the election. One member of Trump’s agricultural advisory team who has been following the process emailed Agri-Pulse: “Think Ag is down the food chain a bit.”
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