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Sonny Perdue confirmed to lead Department of Agriculture

WASHINGTON – Former Gov. Sonny Perdue will become the first-ever Georgian to lead the sprawling Department of Agriculture after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm him to the Cabinet Monday evening.

Thirty-seven Democrats joined every Republican to vote in favor of elevating the Republican to the position, 87-11, nearly 13 weeks after he was first tapped by President Donald Trump.



The 'no' votes came mainly from liberals, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Senior Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois voted 'yes.'

Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson also voted in favor of Perdue's nomination, saying the governor's "experience and leadership in public service, business and agriculture will benefit our nation." U.S. Sen. David Perdue abstained since he is Gov. Perdue's first cousin, although he did preside over the Senate floor during the vote.

And in an uncommon move, Sonny Perdue and several members of his family watched the vote from a visitors area overlooking the chamber. The Republican cracked a smile after the Senate voted to advance his nomination.

Perdue is slated to be sworn in during a short ceremony at the Supreme Court early Tuesday morning and later speak with department employees before participating in a farmer roundtable and executive order signing with Trump.

The Senate confirmation vote came after very little debate on the floor Monday. In a sign of how uncontentious he was considered, party leaders agreed to hold less than three hours of debate on his nomination --  others had been subjected to the maximum 30 hours. And for much of that designated time, the Senate floor stood empty.

Those who did speak said Perdue's background as a veterinarian and agri-businessman would make him a strong advocate for rural America at the Agriculture Department, or USDA.

"He understands that the agriculture department has a profound impact on nearly every community across the country and certainly every family," said Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee. "Gov. Perdue's leadership is desperately needed by farmers, families and all Americans who rely on the USDA."

Perdue has the wide backing of farming and agriculture groups in Georgia and beyond and only limited opposition among some environmental groups.

In a statement before the vote, Tiffany Finck-Haynes of the group Friends of the Earth said Perdue’s “long-standing ties to major agribusiness and chemical companies” made him “out of touch with American values." She said the Senate should reject his nomination.

“The USDA needs a champion who will support small family farmers, food safety standards, and healthier food — not another shill for big agribusiness,” Haynes said.

Perdue’s new position gives him oversight of the country’s farm, nutrition and rural development programs, as well as roughly 100,000 employees. He’ll be the first southerner in the position since the mid-1990s.

Perdue was last Cabinet-level pick to be announced by Trump, and it took weeks to submit his Senate paperwork as he looked to untie himself from his myriad business interests. He later vowed to step down from his business holding company and restructure his family trusts in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Read more about Sonny Perdue’s road to confirmation:

What Sonny Perdue’s Cabinet promotion could mean for Georgia

Ag panel vote moves Sonny Perdue one step away from Cabinet job

Confirmation hearing goes smoothly for Sonny Perdue to become ag chief

Georgians Tom Price, Sonny Perdue adjust to life at political pinnacle

Donald Trump taps Sonny Perdue as his agriculture chief

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.