WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2016 - Agriculture secretary is a “very big deal” for President-elect Donald Trump, and, as with other cabinet positions, he wants to make sure he is “getting the right person” for USDA, said spokesman Jason Miller.
Agriculture is the last cabinet position other than Veterans Affairs that Trump hasn’t filled. Tom Vilsack was announced as President Obama’s selection on Dec. 17, 2008.
Sources say that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., remains a top candidate for the USDA post in part because Republicans would like to expand their majority by winning her seat in a special election.
Asked by Agri-Pulse about Heitkamp, Miller reiterated what he has said previously: “She’s obviously very well qualified and has a great deal of leadership experience and familiarity with this particular subject matter, but I would not yet start writing that decisions have or have not been made until we hear directly from the president-elect.”
Miller also said that Trump is overall ahead of the pace of Obama and other previous presidents-elect. Trump announced on Thursday that he was nominating Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., for Interior Secretary, another key post for many in agriculture.
“The president-elect has been moving at a pretty brisk pace here for adding numerous cabinet nominees. And in fact we’re well ahead of the pace from what we’ve seen from really any other incoming presidents for the past several decades,” Miller said.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is the latest to emerge as a possibility for agriculture secretary. “All we know is he is being vetted as a possible candidate. That is all we know,” said the governor’s spokesman, Jon Hanian.
Otter’s backers include Bill Flory, a former president of the National Association of Wheat Growers and a member of Trump’s ag advisory council.
Nebraska agribusinessman Charles W. Herbster, who chaired the Trump agriculture advisory council, told Agri-Pulse late Thursday that he believes he is under consideration as well but would support whomever Trump selects. Herbster said that he doesn't know when an announcement will be made.
Wade Cowan, a West Texas farmer and former president of the American Soybean Association, also has surfaced as a possible candidate. Cowan could not be reached for comment.