Senate Ag forwards 3 nominees to full Senate

The Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday voted by voice to forward the nominations of three of President Donald Trump’s nominees for positions at the Agriculture Department, but there was some dissent.

The committee approved the nominations of Mindy Brashears to be undersecretary for food safety, Naomi Earp to be assistant secretary for civil rights and Scott Hutchins to be undersecretary for research, education and economics.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., held one vote on all three.

But Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said she wanted to be recorded as voting no on Earp’s nomination, and other Democrats – apparently five – followed her.

Stabenow said she was not “comfortable” with Earp’s responses to questions during a confirmation hearing.

Earp said there is a difference between sexual assault, which is a crime, and “the silliness that goes on as a part of harassment.”

Later in the hearing, Earp added, “I probably shouldn’t have described sexual harassment as ‘silliness,’ although it is on a continuum.”

Stabenow said today, “It’s not just about sexual assault — it’s sexual harassment. It’s about how you create an atmosphere where it doesn’t happen.”

Stabenow said she has not decided whether she will oppose Earp on the Senate floor, but she wants to get input from others – apparently people outside the Senate – on Earp’s history as a civil rights official, which has been criticized.

The Agriculture Department has a history of sexual assault and harassment, particularly in the U.S. Forest Service. In November, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to examine the Forest Service’s response to allegations of misconduct, sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. (See link)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said she also wanted to be recorded as opposed to moving forward with Hutchins’ nomination.

Until recently, Hutchins was an executive with Corteva Agriscience.

Gillibrand did not give a reason today. But his ties to industry and certain products have been controversial.

Stabenow said she did not plan to stop any of the nominations from coming to a vote on the Senate floor, but did not know if other Democrats would.

–The Hagstrom Report