Sonny Perdue
March 3, 2017

Where's Sonny?

 |  By: Associated Press

President Donald Trump tapped former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to be his agriculture secretary six weeks ago, but the administration still hasn't formally provided the Senate with the paperwork for the nomination.

The delay is frustrating farm-state senators, who represent many of the core voters who helped elect Trump.

"I don't know yet," Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Wednesday when asked about Perdue's paperwork, which Roberts needs before he can schedule a confirmation hearing. "I wish to hell I did. We need a champion for agriculture, we need him on board."

Roberts also complained about the delay at a committee hearing in Kansas last week. He predicted that Perdue would be confirmed quickly once the Senate can get started on his nomination.

The White House said the paperwork, including ethics forms and an FBI background check, is coming soon. The only other nomination that hasn't been sent to Capitol Hill is that of Alexander Acosta, who was nominated to be labor secretary on Feb. 16 after the withdrawal of the original nominee, Andrew Puzder.

Senators say they haven't been given an explanation for the delay involving Perdue.

"They don't seem to have a reason as to why his name hasn't come up," Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters after asking around about the Perdue nomination.

The delay comes as some farm-state lawmakers question whether Trump is paying enough attention to rural areas, which overwhelmingly voted for him.

After Trump's address to Congress on Tuesday night, Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana both said the president didn't specifically mention rural America in his hourlong speech. Both are up for re-election in 2018.

"There wasn't a mention of rural America, a farm bill, or agriculture workers, and these should be focuses for any leader of our country," Heitkamp said, noting that President Barack Obama often omitted farm country in his speeches to Congress as well.

"You wonder why people in rural America feel left out and feel disenfranchised? Because they never hear anything about them," she said.

Tester said lawmakers need to keep rural issues "front and center" for the new president, who is from New York City.

"The tendency is to go where you know, and I'm not sure he knows rural America very well, so it's just an opportunity to remind him that you've got to pay attention," Tester said.

Some farm-state Republicans pushed back on the idea that Trump is not engaged.

"He talked about rolling back regulations, and he talked about things that really matter in rural America," South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds said of Trump's speech.

Perdue was the last member of the Cabinet to be named, aside from the need to find a new labor secretary candidate when Puzder dropped out. While Trump began picking department heads in November, he waited until Jan. 18, two days before his inauguration, to choose an agriculture secretary. At the time, farm-state lawmakers and farm groups said they worried that the new pick would be at a disadvantage getting started.

In the weeks since he was chosen, Perdue has held several meetings with senators on Capitol Hill. Farm-state senators have mostly praised his nomination, including Heitkamp, who said she would support him.

Perdue, 70, is a farmer's son who built businesses in grain trading and trucking before becoming the first Republican governor of Georgia since Reconstruction. He would be the first Southerner in the post in more than two decades.

It's unclear if some of his business interests are causing the holdup. Before Trump's inauguration, the head of the Office of Government Ethics complained that the new administration was not filing forms quickly enough as the Senate started to hold hearings.

OGE Director Walter Shaub said in January that part of the problem was that Trump announced nominees before consulting the office for evaluation of ethics issues. Traditionally, a president's or president-elect's picks have not been announced until the office has cleared the nominees, Shaub said at the time.

The forms in question are financial disclosures certified by the ethics office and also written ethics agreements between the nominee and the office that identify potential conflicts of interest and the ways in which the nominee will resolve those conflicts. They are required by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, passed after the Watergate scandal.

While Perdue's nomination is pending, Acting Agriculture Deputy Secretary Mike Young is in charge.