WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2017 - The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the first two Agriculture Department nominees since Secretary Sonny Perdue took office in April, including President Trump’s pick for deputy secretary, Steve Censky.
In addition to Censky, the longtime CEO of the American Soybean Association, the committee also advanced the nomination of Indiana Agriculture Director Ted McKinney to become the department’s first undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs.
The committee approved the nominations on a voice vote during a brief meeting off the Senate floor Monday evening. Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said afterwards that he hoped the full Senate acts on the nominations "fairly quickly." He added, "I’m going to go straight from here to the leader (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) to indicate we have done this.”
There was no immediate comment from McConnell's office on when floor action would be scheduled.
In a joint statement, Roberts, R-Kan. and ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said the committee "continues to do our part to vet and swiftly advance USDA nominees. We will continue to work together to get Secretary Perdue a qualified, functioning team at USDA. Our farmers and ranchers are counting on us.”
Asked if it was possible the nominations of Censky and McKinney could move through the Senate by unanimous consent, Roberts simply said: "Wouldn't that be wonderful?"
USDA’s deputy secretary traditionally manages the department’s day-to-day operations. Perdue announced the creation of the trade undersecretary position in May, fulfilling a requirement of the 2014 farm bill.
McKinney earlier spent 19 years with Dow AgroSciences and 14 years with Elanco, a subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Co. At USDA, he would oversee the Foreign Agricultural Service. Perdue also plans to move to the trade mission area the USDA office that manages U.S. participation in Codex Alimentarius, the agency that recommends international food-safety standards. The Codex office is now housed at the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The Senate committee is holding a hearing Thursday for two additional nominees, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, Trump’s pick to be undersecretary for farm and conservation programs; and Nebraska Agriculture Director Greg Ibach for undersecretary of marketing and regulatory programs.
The committee has yet to schedule for Sam Clovis, Trump’s nominee for undersecretary of research, economics and education. Clovis faces strong opposition from Democrats over his qualifications as well as past comments on race and homosexuality.
Neither Censky nor McKinney had any problems during their confirmation hearing last month. Censky promised the committee he would work to keep crop insurance “effective and viable,” champion the Renewable Fuel Standard and provide input into development of Trump’s budget proposals. He also assured Democrats that helping farmers adjust to climate change would be a personal priority.
McKinney said he planned to travel frequently and would be a “happy warrior” for U.S. producers on trade.