Sonny Perdue confirmed as U.S. agriculture secretary

April 25, 2017 GMT

WASHINGTON — Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue was confirmed with strong bipartisan Senate support Monday evening as the new U.S. secretary of agriculture.

A source close to the process told The Albany Herald that Perdue is to be sworn in as secretary early Tuesday at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Perdue’s appointment was announced by his cousin, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who was presiding over the Senate for the vote. Sen. Perdue said that 87 senators had supported the secretary, 11 had opposed and one had voted present — Sen. Perdue.

As ag secretary, Gov. Perdue will oversee the nation’s farm and forestry programs, as well as the U.S. nutrition programs. He’ll also be take the lead in the upcoming U.S. farm bill and farm trade work.

Sen. Perdue spoke on behalf of his cousin to his fellow senators.

“I grew up with this man,” the senator said. “I probably know too much about him, but we won’t go there tonight. He grew up on a farm, he became a doctor of veterinary medicine, served in the Air Force. He had an ag business for the past 40 years. He and I have been in business together. I’ve seen his integrity and his responsibility all my life.”

Noting that Sonny Perdue was the first Republican governor of Georgia in more than 135 years, Sen. Perdue said he started economic development focus in the state that has led to Georgia being rated as “the best state in the country in which to do business.”

“Tonight, he has been confirmed as our next secretary of agriculture and I could not be more proud for him, for our family, but most importantly for our country,” Sen. Perdue said. “I want to be the first in this august body to call my cousin, Sonny Perdue, by his new title, Mr. Secretary. I believe he is an outstanding candidate.”

Sen. Perdue commended Trump on the selection. Gov. Perdue is the second Georgian confirmed to join President Trump’s cabinet. Former U.S. Rep. Tom Price was confirmed as secretary of Health & Human Services in a much closer Feb. 10 vote of 52-47.

“As secretary of agriculture, my cousin has a big job,” the senator said. “He’s got a big responsibility. I look forward to working with him as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee to make our agriculture, farming, and ranching industries vigorous and strong now, and for future generations.”

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who spoke in favor of Gov. Perdue before the vote, said he was proud to cast his vote for Perdue, who he noted served as Georgia Senate president pro tem as a Democrat before moving to the Republican Party and winning the governorship.

“Sonny’s experience and leadership in public service, business and agriculture will benefit our nation as he takes the reins as secretary of agriculture,” Isakson said. “Agriculture remains Georgia’s number one industry, and our state is fortunate to have him in this important leadership position. I was proud to cast my vote today in support of Sonny Perdue.”

In his remarks before the vote, Isakson said if someone were looking up the definition of an agriculture secretary, they would find Perdue’s picture with the dictionary entry.

Gov. Perdue was announced by Trump on Jan. 19 — the day before the president was sworn in — as his choice to lead USDA, but confirmation hearings were delayed while the nominee made arrangements with his business holdings to meet ethics requirements. The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee conducted hearings on his nomination on March 23, recommending his full Senate approval.

From the House, fellow Georgian U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, congratulated Gov. Perdue on his confirmation.

“Georgians certainly understand the importance our nation’s agriculture industry plays in our state and national economy and in keeping the world fed,” Scott said. “Between his public service to the state of Georgia and his background in agribusiness, Sonny is the perfect choice to lead USDA.

“I am confident he will continue to be a champion for the needs of our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers, and I congratulate him on his confirmation to be United States secretary of agriculture.”

Officials with Georgia Farm Bureau were among the first to tweet congratulations to Gov. Perdue after he passed the 51-vote threshold needed for confirmation.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate Ag Committee, said he was happy to see Secretary Perdue receive “broad, bipartisan majority” support from the senators.

“Based on my conversations with Gov. Perdue and his long record of public service, I’m confident that he will hit the ground running in his new job,” Grassley said. “Gov. Perdue’s leadership at the Department of Agriculture will be particularly important as the issue of international trade is debated in Congress and by the Administration. I plan to work closely with the new secretary on American trade interests, especially with regard to agricultural exports.

“U.S. farmers rely on existing export markets for much of their livelihood, and they deserve access to new markets wherever it makes sense. I also look forward to working with Gov. Perdue and consulting his department for its technical expertise as a new Farm Bill is crafted later this year.”

With the secretary position in a caretaker situation, there have been concerns about whether agriculture would be lost in the shuffle as the United States worked international trade.