Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Nomination Of Sonny Perdue To Be Secretary of Agriculture

Mr. President, today I will vote for Sonny Perdue to be the next Secretary of Agriculture. Governor Perdue, with his lifetime of experience with farming and agribusiness, stands out as one of the few nominees to this Cabinet who appears well qualified for the position to which he has been nominated.

But to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and American Agriculture, Governor Perdue must represent the broad spectrum of interests before USDA and do all he can to hear from all sides, because this truly is the “People’s Department.”  USDA touches the lives of every American, in many ways that include, but go far beyond, farming itself.  This Department’s workforce is spread across all 50 states and another 99 countries.

I hope that Governor Perdue will continue the important work that Secretary Vilsack diligently led for the last eight years, to help USDA look forward to addressing the changing needs of agriculture and rural America.  We must stand by our rural communities, communities that, thus far, seem to be forgotten by this administration.  These small towns desperately need USDA’s help to access broadband, to make critical infrastructure improvements to their water and waste water systems, and to support new rural businesses.

I also hope that he succeeds in elevating the status of USDA among government agencies in an administration that appears to have forgotten about both this Department as well as the rural communities that depend on its work.  I am hopeful that, as the President's top adviser on matters of agriculture, rural development, safe and affordable food, the role of immigration in our farm labor needs, research, agricultural trade, and countless other issues, he will carefully provide advice that reflects good judgment and independence from the President, and respect for the law.

I was grateful when Mr. Perdue said in his confirmation hearing that he would be a voice and an advocate for agriculture at the highest levels of government.  As I reminded him at his hearing and in our private meeting, he must represent all of agriculture.  This includes not only the famers he has gotten to know during his tenure as Governor of Georgia, but also our new and beginning farmers, organic farmers, Vermont’s dairy farmers, those selling directly to consumers or focused on local food systems, those trying to develop new markets for energy crops as well as researchers promoting new farm practices, forestry opportunities and sustainable practices.  He must also stand up for our hungry and malnourished families, both here and abroad, and for consumers who want to know that their food is safe to eat and grown in responsible ways.

This Department’s work is vast and far-reaching -- from helping those with the least, to stewarding federal forest and range lands, combating climate change, ensuring food safety, conserving water and wildlife, and preserving farmland, to researching new technologies, feeding young school children healthy meals, advancing international trade, supporting rural communities and housing, and ensuring fair and competitive markets for farmers.

I do have concerns about some of Mr. Perdue’s past statements and positions.  I am concerned that he continues to question broadly accepted science regarding the role of humans in the mounting climate crisis.  I don’t feel that every question has been answered related to past ethical issues.  I have heard from many Vermonters concerned not so much with the policies and positions of Mr. Perdue himself, but who are alarmed by this administration overall.  Some Vermonters fear that Mr. Perdue will not fully defend our vital social programs and environmental regulations.  I do appreciate that, in his confirmation hearings, he said that he recognizes that as Secretary he must work hard to improve the lives of the least among us and that he knows that it is our responsibility to leave the land better than we found it.

In these challenging times for agriculture and our rural communities, I call on Governor Perdue to provide a loud voice of reason and a thoughtful balance within what continues to be an undisciplined and impulsive administration led by a President who continues to put forward extreme proposals, such as budget cuts that would starve small towns and communities of jobs and opportunity and have a disproportionate impact on small towns, and the rest of the Cabinet appears in many cases to have very little understanding or interest in the needs of rural Americans. 

As a past Chairman and most senior member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee as we begin to write the next Farm Bill, and as Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I look forward to working closely with Mr. Perdue in his new role.

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