Hearings' contrasts: Senators friendly to ag nominee, grill SEC choice

By Allen Cone  |  Updated March 24, 2017 at 1:16 AM
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March 23 (UPI) -- Senate confirmation hearings for two of President Donald Trump's nominees -- for agriculture and the Securities and Exchange Commission -- had contrasting tones Thursday.

Members of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee were friendly and non-confrontational with the agriculture secretary nominee, George "Sonny" Perdue, 70, but SEC chairman pick Jay Clayton, 50, received a grilling with some members of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts took a jab at the white collar lawyer who has no government experience.

"If President Trump wanted to make sure that the SEC would have a hard time in going after his Wall Street friends, you would be the perfect SEC chair," said Trump, who didn't give Clayton a chance to respond during her statement.

Because of ethics rules, Clayton would be forced to recuse himself from cases involving former clients during his first two years. That includes big banks

Clayton is a partner at renowned law firm Sullivan and Cromwell, which has had clients that include Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs. His wife also works for Goldman Sachs, but she plans to leave her job if her husband runs the SEC.

"Much of the enforcement activity of the commission as I understand is driven by the enforcement division and the oversight of the enforcement division," said Clayton. "I have every confidence that that will continue and that any recusals that I have to do will not impact that."

He said he hopes to build a consensus with both parties.

In another hearing room, Perdue avoided questions about 13 complaints to the Georgia Ethics Commission during his two terms as governor.

The nominee, who was raised on a dairy farm and earned a doctor in veterinary medicine, assured the senators in farm states he would be an advocate for farmers.

"Agriculture is in my heart," he said.

Perdue was the last Cabinet nominee named on Jan. 18, two days before Trump became president.

"I think the president saved the best for last," Perdue said in fending off criticism Trump made agriculture a low priority with such a late nomination.

Perdue said he wasn't consulted on Trump's proposed $4.7 billion cut in funding -- 21 percent -- from the current budget.

"As a member of the administration, I view this budget similar to what as governor," Perdue said. "I didn't like it ... but we managed to it."

Perdue assured senators he would be a strong advocate for trade

"I plan to be onsite as USDA's chief salesman around the world to sell these products, to negotiate these deals side by side with USTR [the U.S. trade representative], side by side with [Commerce] Secretary [Wilbur] Ross and our whole team there," Perdue told the panel.

"I believe that USDA will be intimately involved in the personal on-the-ground, boots-on-the-ground negotiations at tables around this world with ag ministers and foreign dignitaries there selling our products."

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