Sam Clovis is a terrible pick for the USDA
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This fall, the Senate will likely take up the president’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) research portfolio, Sam Clovis. After flirting with other candidates, Clovis swung to the Trump camp before the Iowa caucuses. His early onboard status vaulted him up the ranks of the campaign, clinching an offer to join the administration — a post for which he is manifestly unqualified.

The law requires candidates for the position to possess “specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics,” none of which are on Clovis's resume.

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His inability to respect scientific findings matches his nonexistent credentials. Clovis is a climate change ostrich. “A lot of the science is junk science,” he said in rejecting the most ominous threat facing the farmers who populate the groups supporting him, themselves betraying the farm lobby’s longtime allegiance to science-based policymaking.

 

Virtually the entire agricultural establishment has lined up behind Clovis, a breathtaking display of unvarnished transactionalism even for this incomparably transactional administration. One of his farm lobby supporters justified the endorsement citing Clovis’s “masterful understanding of how to appeal to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE for the benefit of agriculture.” Really?

Agriculture stood first in line among potential beneficiaries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Trump pulled out within days of taking office. The budget he sent Congress proposed enormous cuts in USDA spending, including research.

If the farm lobby thinks its Clovis connection will deliver its highest congressional priority — a new farm bill — these lobbyists have not been paying attention to the president’s display of stunning legislative ineptitude.

Before joining the Trump campaign, Clovis’s blog posts and radio talk show commentary were laced with misogyny, anti-gay bias and racism. He attacked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as several female Obama administration officials. Homosexuality is an aberration, Clovis claimed. He stoked birtherism, accusing President Obama of fabricating his biography, and called Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderThe Hill's Campaign Report: Coronavirus forces Democrats to postpone convention Biden associates reach out to Holder about VP search Big stimulus packages required, but they risk political blowback MORE and Secretary Tom Perez racist bigots.

Those views have no place in government, especially not in the leadership of a department still rebuilding from a maelstrom of discrimination complaints and civil rights chaos. As the Clinton administration was winding down, USDA settled a class action case African-American farmers brought against it; Congress augmented the settlement in subsequent years. It was imperfect, drawing criticism from those who thought the compensation inadequate and those who thought some payments were unwarranted.

But the payments the settlement provided were only part of USDA’s response. We (I was USDA’s chief of staff at the time) knew we had to change the department’s culture. We required its leadership, especially political appointees, to manifest genuine, deep and visible commitment to equal opportunity and nondiscrimination as we worked to restore credibility and integrity with USDA’s farmer constituents and employees.

An undersecretary with Clovis’s racist baggage would have been intolerable then, and it’s unthinkable now. Those views make a mockery of the ideals memorialized at the George Washington Carver Center, headquarters for USDA’s in-house research agency. They are antithetical to the aspirations of its programs supporting the 1890s historically black land-grant universities, which are also within this position’s jurisdiction.

Clovis’s views on crop insurance have drawn ire from some in the agriculture community. He called it unconstitutional. Crop insurance has plenty of flaws, but it’s not unconstitutional. Since it is the farm policy income transfer mechanism of the moment, some took pause, but not over his credentials deficit, his denial of the science that portends an existential threat to American agriculture, and not at the racial attitudes that would shatter the civil rights progress the department has made and needs to continue.

There is no reason to think the president will admit his mistake and withdraw his support for this nomination, but there is time for backers in the farm lobby to withdraw theirs. Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally campaign to suspend TV ads, canvassing amid pandemic Coronavirus isn't the only reason Congress should spend less time in DC Trump Jr. says he inherited 'Tourette's of the thumbs' from his father MORE (R-Ariz.) scolded his party and conservatives generally for not standing up to the president’s brotherism. Business leaders, rightly, drew the line at this remarks on Charlottesville. The farm lobby, and the Senate, should follow their lead.

Greg Frazier is an independent consultant on food and agriculture. He is the former USDA chief of staff under the Clinton administration. 


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