WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2017 - President-elect Donald Trump’s search for an agriculture secretary drags on. His inauguration is just nine days away and there has been mostly silence from the Trump transition on the search process over the past week. Speculation abounded last week that former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue had a lock on the job but that may longer be the case.

Sources have said that there are regional tensions over who gets the job. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, tweeted Monday that he hoped Trump picked a secretary from “above the Mason-Dixon Line where the states of IA, Mich, Wisc, Ohio, Penn lie.” But a House member of Trump’s agricultural advisory team, Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., tells Agri-Pulse that there is still pressure to select a Hispanic for the job.

He and other lawmakers profess to be in the dark about Trump’s potential selection, including the man who will be responsible for getting Trump’s pick confirmed.  “I want to ask you guys: ‘What are you hearing?” Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., quipped to reporters when they asked Tuesday about prospects for a nominee.

In the meantime, the Senate postponed a hearing on the nomination of Trump’s choice for Commerce, billionaire Wilbur Ross, pushing it from Thursday to Wednesday, Jan. 18, before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The hearing could provide some fresh clues on Trump’s approach to dealing with China and Mexico on trade issues.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer reiterated Tuesday that Ross “will be the administration’s policy leader when it comes to negotiating and renegotiating trade deals.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to hold its confirmation hearing for Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to run the EPA, next week. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee scheduled its hearing on Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., for Interior on Jan. 17. Other nominees awaiting hearings are Andrew Puzder for Labor, and Robert Lighthizer to become U.S. Trade Representative.  

Puzder’s nomination was welcomed by farm groups who have clashed with the department over its regulations or administration of the H-2A visa program. But he is coming under fire from Democrats who accuse his fast-food restaurants of underpaying workers and managers in various ways. On Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., led a mock hearing with some of the workers. Puzder became CEO of CKE Restaurants, which operates the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. burger chains, in 2000.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said that given the allegations it was “outrageous” that Puzder was named to run the Labor Department.

Pruitt, meanwhile, has gone a long way toward alleviating concerns among biofuel producers and some farm groups about his position on the Renewable Fuel Standard. During a meeting with nine Midwest senators on Jan. 5, Pruitt committed to follow the “rule of law” in administering the RFS, said Grassley, who hosted the meeting.


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