Committee clears Biden nominee Moffitt for vote in Senate

Jennifer Moffitt, who would give farmers more leverage through USDA rules in dealing with meat processors, is one step away — a favorable vote in the Senate — from becoming agriculture undersecretary for marketing. Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee recommended her confirmation on a voice vote on Monday

If confirmed, Moffitt, who grew up on a family farm in California and later managed it, would be in charge of agricultural marketing and regulatory programs, from so-called checkoff programs and grain inspection to assuring fair competition in the marketplace, protecting U.S. crops from pests and diseases, and regulating genetically engineered crops.

Moffitt and Janie Hipp, an agricultural law expert, are the first of the Biden administration’s nominees for executive-level jobs at USDA to be cleared for a floor vote by the Senate Agriculture Committee. It will hold confirmation hearings on Thursday on former Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico, nominated to be undersecretary for rural development, and USDA climate adviser Robert Bonnie, nominated to be undersecretary for farm production and conservation.

To date, Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh is the only top-rank USDA nominee confirmed by the Senate to work with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The White House has announced nominees for four of the eight undersecretary posts. Moffitt is the first of those approved for a floor vote. Hipp was nominated for general counsel, the head of USDA’s legal office. Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said a Republican senator has placed a hold on her nomination, reported The Hagstrom Report.

In a statement, Stabenow said Moffitt, now undersecretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, has broad support for confirmation. “As a farmer herself, she gets what is at stake in our agriculture system and will fight to expand and protect market opportunities as undersecretary,” said Stabenow. Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, the lead Republican on the committee, said Moffitt understood the day-to-day impact of USDA programs as well as its role in expanding the market for U.S. farm goods.

During her confirmation hearing, Moffitt cited President Biden’s executive order to promote competition, including tougher fair-play rules in livestock marketing, a lightning-rod issue for years. “Transparency is important, price discovery is important, regional processing capacity is important,” she said at the July 15 hearing. “All of these things together are very important to create a fair and robust agricultural marketplace.”

Also on Monday, Randy Moore took the oath of office as chief of the Forest Service. He is the first Black person to lead the 116-year-old agency and succeeds Vicki Christensen, who has retired. In one of her last acts as chief, Christiansen appointed Angela Coleman as assistant chief of the Forest Service, second in command to Moore.