Grassley-Cruz Senate showdown

Recently, a group of senators, led by Chuck Grassley, hit the Senate floor in defense of freeing up the nomination of Bill Northey to be the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary of agriculture for farm production and conservation.

While a good idea in theory, it didn’t go quite as well as Sen. Grassley may have hoped.

Here’s the backstory. Any senator can put a hold on a nomination to keep it from coming up for a vote before the full Senate. Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has put a hold on Northey’s nomination. His reasoning is because he wants changes in the Renewable Fuels Standard. At first, Cruz demanded a White House meeting on the RFS. He got it. But he maintained his hold. Talk about shifting the goalposts. Cruz says his oil refiners are at a disadvantage because of the RFS.

Northey has been awaiting a full Senate vote since October, when he was voted out of the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously. That is way too long. As you probably know, Iowa corn farmers (which Grassley represents) and Texas oil refiners (which Cruz represents) don’t usually see eye-to-eye on the RFS.

Grassley’s speech, while impassioned about agriculture and the qualifications of his friend Bill Northey, also undercut the Republican’s message that Senate Democrats are holding up President Donald Trump’s nominees who need Senate confirmation. By the way, they are in pretty much every other nomination, but Grassley just shined a spotlight on the outlier.

Grassley also gave Cruz a near-perfect opportunity to lay out his reasons for fixing the RFS. He did so quite well. In this stunt, Cruz actually came out on top. His arguments were rational and plainly stated. He has Grassley to thank for that opportunity. Cruz even said he hopes Northey will be confirmed, despite his hold.

“None of this has anything to do with President Trump’s choice to oversee farm programs at USDA,” Grassley said. “Bill Northey should be confirmed by this body. He has overwhelming bipartisan support. Taking a nominee hostage to try and force an ill-conceived policy change is only going to cause more problems for this body in the future.”

Having Northey in place as the House and Senate Agriculture committees write the farm bill would be a huge help. Having him at USDA after the farm bill is passed is just as important for proper implementation. Another thing to consider is that the Iowa secretary of agriculture, which is the office Northey currently holds, is an elected position. The filing deadline to run is in early March, so he has some decisions to make. Cruz has given zero indication that he’ll lift his hold before then.

Northey must have the patience of a saint.

Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.