WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, shows no signs of lifting his blockade of Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey’s nomination to a position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
And another ag department nominee — ex-Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis, a former conservative radio talk show host from Iowa — is facing renewed opposition to his nomination to serve as the department’s chief scientist amid revelations that he encouraged a campaign adviser to foster ties with Russian officials.
Cruz and eight other senators from refinery-heavy areas have requested a meeting with Trump administration officials over the Renewable Fuel Standard, which are federal mandates that they say are driving up costs for refiners and putting thousands of jobs in their states at risk.
“It’s an unsustainable situation,” Cruz told reporters Tuesday.
Cruz has not raised concerns about Northey’s qualifications to be the next undersecretary of farm production and conservation. Rather, the nomination has become a point of leverage in a dispute over the RFS, which requires certain levels of ethanol, biodiesel and other renewables to be blended into fuel.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, blocked a top Environmental Protection Agency nominee until the administration announced its support for a laundry list of pro-ethanol policies.
Now Cruz is pushing back by blocking the Northey nomination. In particular, his side complains that the price of credits used to show compliance with the RFS has been driven up by speculators.
“I believe there is a win-win that is good for Iowa corn farmers and good for Pennsylvania refinery workers,” Cruz said. “And it’s incumbent on all of us to reach solutions that actually work and produce jobs.”
But Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, rejected the idea of a meeting at the White House as “ludicrous” and a “waste of time” given that both the president and the EPA administrator have thrown their support behind the RFS.
“There’s no oil at the bottom of that Texas hole,” Grassley told The Omaha World-Herald.
But Northey’s supporters still need to figure out some kind of strategy, Grassley said, because Northey is much needed in his new position.
Grassley also said Tuesday that it’s too early to conclude that Clovis’ nomination will falter. He said that Clovis is cooperating with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation.
Newly released court documents show that Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos communicated with several senior campaign officials about his outreach to the Russian government over a period of months.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty this month to lying to federal agents about his outreach to Russia.
Victoria Toensing, an attorney for Clovis, confirmed that several references in court filings to “the campaign supervisor” refer to Clovis.
At one point, Papadopoulos emailed Clovis and other campaign officials about a March 24, 2016, meeting he had in London with a professor who had introduced him to the Russian ambassador and a Russian woman he described as “Putin’s niece.”
The group had talked about arranging a meeting “between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump,” Papadopoulos wrote. (Papadopoulos later learned that the woman was not Putin’s niece, and while he expected to meet the ambassador, he never did, according to filings.)
Clovis responded that he would “work it through the campaign,” adding, “great work,” according to court documents.
In August 2016, Clovis responded to efforts by Papadopoulos to organize an “off the record” meeting with Russian officials. “I would encourage you” and another foreign policy adviser to the campaign to “make the trip, if it is feasible,” Clovis wrote.
Toensing said Clovis “always vigorously opposed any Russian trip for Donald Trump and/or the campaign.” She said his responses to Papadopoulos were courtesy by “a polite gentleman from Iowa.”
— This report includes material from the Washington Post.