WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2017 - Bitter Senate fights over President Trump’s nominees, plus a backlog of FBI background investigations, are leaving departments and agencies critical to farmers and ranchers without new leadership. Even nominees who aren’t particularly controversial, including Sonny Perdue, Trump’s pick for agriculture secretary, are caught in the logjam.
Perdue’s nomination is likely to sail through the Senate, especially that he now has the support of the last two Democratic secretaries of agriculture, Dan Glickman and Tom Vilsack. But Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts told Agri-Pulse he’s waiting to schedule a confirmation hearing until Perdue’s FBI background check is completed. “Everything’s backed up,” Roberts said.
With the Senate out of session the week of Feb. 20, that means Perdue’s hearing could easily slip until the end of the month.
Labor nominee Andy Puzder is proving to be far more controversial because of criticism of his labor practices at the company he runs, CKE Restaurants, which operates Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., and a new revelation that he once employed an undocumented housekeeper. Puzder hasn’t even had a hearing, even though his nomination was announced in early December.
But the chairman of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Tuesday that Puzder could get his hearing as soon as next week. Alexander said he is still waiting on a report on Puzder from the Office of Government Ethics, which reviews every nominee for conflicts of interest. Alexander said he had no indication that Puzder was thinking of withdrawing his name.
Because they did away with the 60-vote requirement for confirming nominees to agencies and lower courts, Democrats have little chance of blocking Trump’s nominees. But Democrats are repeatedly slowing down the Senate and staged an around-the-clock filibuster against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The Senate ultimately approved DeVos on Tuesday - only because Mike Pence became the first vice president ever to have to break a 50-50 tie to confirm a president’s nominee.
The Senate then moved to the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. He’s also facing stiff resistance. Next in line: Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price and Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin.
The next group of nominees ready for floor debate includes two key names for agriculture, EPA nominee Scott Pruitt and Interior nominee Ryan Zinke. Zinke, a Montana congressman, came out of committee with some Democratic support, so he should easily win confirmation. Republicans had to change committee rules to get Pruitt’s name out of Environment and Public Works last week when Democrats boycotted the vote.
Oklahoma GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe, a former chairman of the committee and strong supporter of Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, said he’s confident Pruitt will ultimately be confirmed. Inhofe expects unanimous GOP support for Pruitt on the floor, along with about four Democratic votes.