Bring in the cavalry: October could be the month Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue finally gets some help running USDA. The Senate Agriculture Committee held a confirmation hearing in late September on the nominations of Stephen Censky for deputy secretary and Ted McKinney for the newly created trade undersecretary - both of whom have solid support. Expect a vote early this month to send their nominations to the floor. The committee also seems poised to move quickly on two more nominations for USDA undersecretary posts: Bill Northey, to lead farm services, and Greg Ibach, to head regulatory and marketing programs. Both were nominated in September and will go in front of the committee for a hearing on Thursday.
The Clovis factor: While those four nominees are expected to face little opposition from the full Senate, the administration's pick of Sam Clovis to be USDA's chief scientist is opposed by key Democrats: Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer . Clovis, a former Iowa business professor and Trump campaign co-chair, doesn't appear to meet the statutory requirement that the position be filled by someone with a background in natural sciences. Clovis has also been dogged by criticism of inflammatory comments he's made disparaging progressives, women, African Americans and members of the LGBT community. Senate Agriculture continues to vet his nomination.
Tick tock, taskforce: Back in April, Trump assigned Perdue to lead a government-wide review of regulations and programs affecting rural America to identify those that could be scrapped to promote economic growth. Perdue was given 180 days to report back, creating a deadline of Oct. 21. Perdue hosted at least two Cabinet-level meetings of the taskforce over the summer and a pair of listening sessions with farmers - one in Georgia and one in New Hampshire - but the department has been mum on its progress. The review, which spans 23 departments and offices, is no small task, and was assigned before any agency, USDA included, was fully staffed.
Perdue's first GIPSA test: The Obama administration's controversial interim final rule that lowers the bar for contract poultry growers to sue under Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration guidelines is set to go into effect Oct. 19, setting up a test of how Perdue plans to deal with the measure and a pair of related draft proposals also aimed at protecting growers. The interim final rule's effective date was delayed by the Trump administration first in February and again in April - before Perdue was confirmed - to allow time for review.
The GIPSA rules are a lose-lose situation for Perdue. Scrapping the interim final rule and the two proposals would draw the ire of poultry producers, of whom there are many in Perdue's home state of Georgia and who now have little recourse against unfair treatment from companies they contract with. But implementing the measures would lead to outcry from some Republican lawmakers and meat industry groups who supported his nomination. It is not clear which way Perdue will go.