WASHINGTON, Jan. 1, 2017 - Farmers and ranchers are eagerly waiting President-elect Donald Trump’s decision on an agriculture secretary, even as the new Congress convenes to ratify his election and prepare to move his agenda.

The 115th Congress convenes at noon on Tuesday with the swearing in of the new senators and House members. On Friday, lawmakers will meet in joint session to count and approve the electoral votes. Vice President Joe Biden will preside over the count and announce the results.

Trump, meanwhile, is expected to finally announce his choice for agriculture secretary this week. Although a last-minute candidate could still emerge, most of the signs point to a Hispanic nominee from Texas, either former Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla or Elsa Murano, a former president of Texas A&M University and under secretary of food safety at USDA. Both interviewed with Trump last week and afterwards were photographed with the president-elect.

Trump also interviewed Former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado. and Susan Combs, a former Texas agriculture commissioner and state comptroller, but Maldonado has past employee and tax issues that could make his confirmation challenging, and Trump interviewed Combs only briefly on Friday.

Although Texas ranks third in agricultural production behind only California and Iowa, no Texan has ever served as agriculture secretary.

Former House Agriculture Chairman Larry Combest, who now has a prominent agricultural lobbying firm, is among the Texans eagerly anticipating the possibility that the state could have one of its own running USDA. “They just understand what goes on in their state better than someone else does,” Combest said, asked about the significance of having a home-state colleague as agriculture secretary.

Trump also has yet to nominate a U.S. trade representative, although it appears the position will have a less prominent role in his administration. Advisers say that his Commerce Department nominee, Wilbur Ross, will largely direct his trade policy, and he also is forming a National Trade Council headed by China hawk Peter Navarro.

House Republicans will waste no time this week moving bills that will emphasize their intent to work with Trump to restrict the government’s regulatory reach.

A series of bills that the House will take up this week includes the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017, or REINS Act. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., would require an up-or-down vote by both the House and Senate before any new rule can take effect that would have an annual economic impact of $100 million or more.

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said shortly after the election that the REINS Act would be a top priority, although the measure is likely to draw a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.

Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, Jan. 2

Federal holiday

Tuesday, Jan. 3

115th Congress convenes at noon.

Wednesday, Jan. 4

Thursday, Jan. 5

10 a.m. - Adam Sieminski of the Energy Information Administration presents the agency’s Annual Energy Outlook 2017 (AEO2017), Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Rome Auditorium, 1619 Massachusetts Avenue NW

Friday,  Jan. 6

American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting, through Jan. 11, Phoenix.

Congress meets in joint session to consider the electoral college votes for president and vice president.


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