From Politico: USDA Secretary Nominee Confirmation Delayed Due To Cuba

Cuba the latest holdup for Sonny
By Jason Huffman
04/05/17 10:00 AM EDT
With help from Catherine Boudreau, Sarah Karlin-Smith and Jenny Hopkinson

CUBA THE LATEST HOLDUP FOR SONNY: First it was paperwork from the White House, then it was Cuba. Turns out some of the delay on Sonny Perdue’s confirmation as Agriculture secretary may have been due to his stance on U.S. trade with the island nation, POLITICO has learned. Until Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Robert Menendez had placed a hold on bringing a vote on Perdue to the Senate floor over concerns about the nominee’s views on Cuba. But the former Georgia governor gave Menendez a buzz on Tuesday, and the New Jersey Democrat agreed to stop slowing the vote, according to spokespeople for both Perdue and Menendez.

Perdue also had to allay the concerns of Sen. Marco Rubio. The Florida Republican and Menendez are hardliners when it comes to ending the more than 50-year embargo on Cuba, arguing it would prop up the communist Castro regime that oppresses its citizens.

The senators’ objections are believed to have stemmed, in part, from comments Perdue made during his confirmation hearing in support of removing restrictions on financing U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba. A number of farm-state lawmakers endorse legislation that would allow Cuba to buy U.S. farm goods using credit — instead of cash up front as is currently required — as a step toward lifting the embargo. Whether Perdue has since changed that stance hasn’t been made clear.

With no other apparent obstacles, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts said he wants to ask for unanimous consent to move the vote sometime this week. If that doesn’t happen (which may be the case given Senate Democrats’ efforts to block the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court), it could be May before an Agriculture secretary is in place. The Senate recesses on Friday for two weeks.

By Megan Cassella
04/05/17 10:00 AM EDT
With help from Doug Palmer and Adam Behsudi

PERDUE VOTE HELD UP OVER CUBA TRADE CONCERNS: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), an outspoken hardliner on Cuba, has been holding up the final Senate vote on Agriculture secretary nominee Sonny Perdue over concerns regarding the former Georgia governor’s stance toward trade with Cuba, Pro Agriculture’s Catherine Boudreau reports. Menendez’s concern stemmed in part from Perdue’s statement during his confirmation hearing that he supports lifting restrictions on financing for U.S. exports to Cuba to allow for increased trade between the two nations.

Perdue called the New Jersey Democrat on Tuesday to discuss the concern, and Menendez is expected to lift the hold, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts and a spokesperson for Perdue told Boudreau.

"If there aren't any more objections, it is conceivable that we can ask for unanimous consent to move the vote," Roberts said Tuesday. "That's what I'd like to do." Roberts added that unless a final vote is held by Friday, Perdue's nomination will be delayed at least a few more weeks because of the two-week recess, which starts at the end of this week.