Energy & Environment

Grassley suggests moderate Democrats for next Agriculture secretary

Greg Nash

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) suggested President-elect Joe Biden should select a more moderate Midwestern Democrat as his next Agriculture secretary. 

“I realize this might hurt their chances but if Biden becomes pres he should select an Iowan or Heidi Heitkamp or [Rep.] Collin Peterson [D-Minn.] to be Ag Secretary. They’d be able to get things done for IA/Midwest farmers even w Democratic House & Republican Senate,” Grassley wrote on Twitter.

Both of those picks come from rural areas of the country with strong farming roots.

Peterson, the longtime chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, just lost his reelection campaign after nearly 30 years in office. Heitkamp, a former one-term senator from North Dakota, lost reelection in 2018.

Though seemingly casting doubt on whether Biden would take office, Grassley’s comments point to tension in the ongoing transition process as progressives lobby the incoming administration to stay away from moderate Democrats.

Heitkamp, who worked on two farm bills during her time in office, has expressed interest in the job.

“Joe Biden has the opportunity to put together a Cabinet that reflects all parts of America, and I know what decision he makes is going to be the right one,” Heitkamp previously told The Hill.

“We all have to make America unified to work again, so I’m very, very excited about Joe Biden as our next president of the United States and for Kamala Harris as our next vice president.”

Since leaving office, she formed the One Country Fund, a political action committee that seeks to bolster Democratic prospects in rural America.

Heitkamp could garner support among her former colleagues. But a coalition of more than 130 environmental, farm and justice groups sent a letter to the transition critiquing her for not having a stronger environmental record and for taking campaign contribution from large agribusiness.

Many of those same groups along with major unions have backed Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), touting her work on food assistance programs.

For his part, Peterson was one of the Democratic Caucus’s more conservative members, voting in line with Second Amendment and anti-abortion interests. 

He’s been credited for working to bridge rural and urban lawmakers to pass previous farm bills.

“You can’t just pass a [farm] bill with farm representative votes. The farm and rural areas don’t have enough votes. So you have to work hard to build a coalition that brings in suburban and urban votes as well,” Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, previously told The Hill.

Tags Ag Secretary agriculture secretary Chuck Grassley Collin Peterson Heidi Heitkamp House Agriculture Committee Joe Biden Marcia Fudge USDA
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