WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2017 - President Trump has followed through on his promise to pick a nominee for the Supreme Court with solid conservative credentials. And his pick, Denver-based appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, is going to be especially attractive to people who believe that regulatory agencies have overreached their legislative authority.

Gorsuch, 49, has argued that the Supreme Court should reconsider a pivotal 1984 opinion that authorizes federal agencies rather than judges to interpret laws that may be unclear. Reversing that decision would make it easier for courts to strike down regulations.

The big question now that Trump has made the choice is whether Democrats can sustain a filibuster against the nomination. That would then force Republicans to consider using the so-called “nuclear option” to end the 60-vote requirement for Supreme Court nominations.

Gorsuch, by the way, has a reputation as an outdoorsman, which is hardly a surprise given that he lives in Boulder, Colo. He’s said to be an avid fly fisherman and hiker.

Perdue picks up Vilsack endorsement. There is no sign that Trump’s nominee for USDA, Sonny Perdue, is any trouble in the Senate. But the former Georgia governor now has a huge endorsement in his pocket with the support of former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Vilsack tells Agri-Pulse that he spoke by phone to Perdue for about 30 minutes last week. In a speech at a dairy industry meeting in Orlando yesterday, Vilsack said he urged Perdue to fight any new cuts in USDA’s budget and they discussed the need for the secretary to be a forceful advocate within the cabinet for agricultural trade.

Vilsack shares the fears of many in agriculture that Trump’s aggressive trade posture with key agricultural markets such as Mexico could backfire on U.S. farmers.
Tom Vilsack & Michael Dykes
Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, with Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, takes questions after speaking at IDFA's 2017 Dairy Forum in Orlando. It was Vilsack's first speech as president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
Still no time set for Perdue nomination hearing. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts tells Agri-Pulse that he’s still waiting on the official paperwork for Perdue’s nomination and then will schedule his confirmation as soon as possible.

Presidential nominees are required to fill out a number of exhaustive forms before the confirmation process can begin, including a public financial disclosure report, a public financial disclosure report and a national security questionnaire.

Help wanted at USDA. The president and CEO of the Corn Refiners Association, John Bode, is appealing to state agriculture officials to consider joining Perdue at USDA. “We need the perspective and experience that you have in leadership positions at USDA,” Bode said yesterday at the winter policy meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

Bode also urged the group to provide input to the Senate and House Agriculture committees as they write the new farm bill. “They need to hear from you, and they need to hear the plain truth from you,” Bode said.

Democrats resist Pruitt vote. The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, John Barrasso, refused yesterday to postpone a vote he scheduled for today on Scott Pruitt’s nomination to head the EPA.

The committee’s top Democrat, Delaware’s Tom Carper, says that the Oklahoma attorney general has failed to fully respond to questions and requests for documents. But Barrasso, R-Wyo., said in response that the committee’s review of Pruitt has been “unparalleled in its scrutiny, thoroughness, and respect for minority rights.’

Interior, Energy nominations head to Senate floor. Two other nominations important to agriculture and the energy sector are heading to the Senate floor with at least some Democratic support.

A mix of three Democrats and one independent, Maine’s Angus King, joined Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee yesterday on separate votes to approve the nominations of Ryan Zinke to be secretary of interior and Rick Perry to be secretary of energy.

FDA, USDA talking about labeling rules. The FDA’s acting commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, says his agency is in discussions with USDA about an industry request to schedule at the same time the deadlines for GMO disclosure and changes in nutrition labeling.

FDA’s deadline for nutrition labeling changes is in the summer of 2018, but USDA isn’t expected to put the GMO disclosure requirements into effect until at least 2020. The food industry wants FDA to delay the nutrition deadline so that it meshes with the GMO rule and give companies more time with the new requirements on the nutrition facts panel.

Ostroff made the comment yesterday in Orlando at the International Dairy Foods Association’s annual dairy forum.

Cattle producers seek votes on BLM planning rule. Resolutions have been introduced in the House and Senate that would kill recent changes that the Bureau of Land Management made to its regulations for land-use planning.

The chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Lisa Murkowski, is sponsoring the Senate resolution, which would repeal the rule known as BLM Planning 2.0. Critics say it unfairly restricts local input in BLM decisions.

“It’s critical that Congress step in to halt implementation of this midnight regulation before it does irreparable harm to our ability to manage federal lands,” said Ethan Lane, who is executive director of the Public Lands Council and the federal lands program at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“Despite paying lip-service to our input in the final rule, the fundamental problems with Planning 2.0 remain, and the rule must be withdrawn. 

The House is holding a series of votes on similar resolutions this week, including one that would kill BLM’s new restrictions on methane flaring.

He said it. “We have got to start talking about all of the people’s lives who are positively impacted by trade.” - Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, when asked at the IDFA forum how the industry can respond to public anxiety about trade.

Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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