Sonny Perdue gains confirmation to become nation’s ag chief

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue will become the first-ever Georgian to lead the sprawling U.S. Department of Agriculture after the Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday evening to confirm him to the Cabinet.

Thirty-seven Democrats joined every Republican to vote in favor of elevating the Republican to the position, 87-11, nearly 13 weeks after he was first tapped by President Donald Trump.

The “no” votes came mainly from liberals, including U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Senate Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois voted “yes.”

Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson voted in favor of Perdue’s nomination. U.S. Sen. David Perdue abstained since he is Sonny Perdue’s first cousin, although he did preside over the Senate floor during the vote.

And in an unorthodox move, Sonny Perdue and several members of his family watched the vote from a visitors area overlooking the chamber. The Republican cracked a smile after the Senate voted to advance his nomination.

Perdue is slated to be sworn in during a short ceremony early Tuesday at the Supreme Court and later speak with department employees. He will then participate in a farmer roundtable and attend an executive order signing with Trump.

The Senate confirmation vote came after very little debate on the floor Monday. In a sign of how uncontentious Perdue’s nomination was considered, party leaders agreed to hold less than three hours of debate before the confirmation vote — others had been subjected to the maximum 30 hours. And for much of that designated time, the Senate floor was empty.

Those who did speak said Perdue’s background as a veterinarian and agribusinessman would make him a strong advocate for rural America at the Agriculture Department, or USDA.

“He understands that the Agriculture Department has a profound impact on nearly every community across the country and certainly every family,” said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Governor Perdue’s leadership is desperately needed by farmers, families and all Americans who rely on the USDA.”

Isakson said in a speech on the Senate floor that Perdue’s “experience and leadership in public service, business and agriculture will benefit our nation.”

Perdue has the wide backing of farming and agriculture groups in Georgia and beyond, and the only limited opposition was among some environmental groups.

In a statement before the vote, Tiffany Finck-Haynes of the group Friends of the Earth said Perdue’s “long-standing ties to major agribusiness and chemical companies” made him “out of touch with American values.” She said the Senate should reject his nomination.

“The USDA needs a champion who will support small family farmers, food safety standards and healthier food — not another shill for big agribusiness,” Finck-Haynes said.

Perdue’s new position gives him oversight of the country’s farm, nutrition and rural development programs, as well as roughly 100,000 employees. The USDA is also responsible for the nation’s food stamp program.

He’ll be the first Southerner in the position since the mid-1990s.

Perdue was the last Cabinet-level pick to be announced by Trump, and it took weeks to submit his Senate paperwork as he looked to untie himself from his myriad business interests. He later vowed to step down from his business holding company and restructure his family trusts in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

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