WASHINGTON -- It’s becoming increasingly likely that former Gov. Sonny Perdue will need to wait until late April or early May to be confirmed as the 31st secretary of agriculture.
Consumed by a partisan brawl over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch that threatens to alter the soul of the Senate, the odds are decreasing by the day that party leaders will cut a deal paving the way for a confirmation vote before the end of the week.
The chamber is then scheduled to depart for a two-week recess. When it returns, the week of April 24th, senators will have five workdays to fend off a partial government shutdown, an effort that could suck away much of the political oxygen on Capitol Hill.
That could very well mean that Perdue, the last Cabinet-level appointee to be nominated by President Donald Trump who also faced delays over his paperwork, will have to wait even longer to lead the $140 billion-a-year Department of Agriculture.
Senate aides say no decisions have been made about when the body could act on Perdue, who has netted bipartisan praise. It's still possible that leaders could strike an eleventh-hour deal for a quick vote to confirm the Republican sometime soon.
But the currently delay is causing a fresh round of anxiety among Perdue's boosters, who have mobilized this week to drum up some urgency.
The top Republican and Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee wrote a letter to Senate leaders earlier this week underscoring the importance of having a leader in place to tackle a backlog of issues facing the ag and farming world:
"Earlier this month, highly pathogenic avian influenza was discovered in a commercial poultry flock along the Mississippi Flyway. In the southern high plains, wildfires have burned more than two million acres, killed thousands of livestock, and tragically took human life. The U.S. Department of Agriculture plays the lead role in responding to these and many other serious situations that are unfolding, and the Department absolutely must have someone at the helm."
Or, as Perdue's confirmation guru put it in the subject line of a recent email: "Senate neglect of USDA secretary nominee Perdue confirmation vote leaves America's heartland in despair."
It’s been nearly 11 weeks since Perdue was first nominated by Trump.