Vaden questioned on voting rights, Smith on beginning farmers
November 14, 2017
At a Senate Agriculture Committee confirmation hearing Thursday, Senate Agriculture Committee Democrats questioned Stephen Vaden, President Donald Trump's nominee for Agriculture Department general counsel, on his role in voting rights cases and members also asked Glen Smith, a nominee for the Farm Credit Administration board what can be done to keep beginning farmers and ranchers in business amidst low prices.
In her opening statement, Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., noted that Vaden had worked on "voting access cases" when he was an associate at the Jones Day law firm.
"We should be in the business of increasing voter participation," Stabenow said.
But Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., had much tougher statements and questions for Vaden.
Brown told Vaden that his work on behalf of the Judicial Education Project had been part of an effort to deny people the right to vote and asked him who funded that work.
Vaden replied that, as an associate, he had done the legal work assigned to him and that he had no knowledge of the billing for that work.
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Brown said it was "pretty troubling you seem so blissfully unaware" of who funded the lawsuit.
Van Hollen told Vaden he had no little experience in agriculture or natural resources and that therefore his work on the voting rights cases were important to understanding his background. Van Hollen asked whether the Judicial Education Project had paid the firm's full rate for the work on the voting access cases, and Vaden said again that he did not know anything about the billing.
On whether he agreed with a court ruling that said the North Carolina voter identification law "targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision," Vaden said he respected the ruling of the court.
But when asked if he had expressed any displeasure to his employers at Jones Day about working on the case, Vaden said he had not, just as he had not declined to work on labor union cases.
Asked for his views today on the case, Vaden also declined to comment further, citing an obligation to former clients he had represented.
Stabenow also noted that she is concerned about whether USDA will use its powers to create an insurance program for dairy farmers, and Vaden, who has been serving as the principal deputy general counsel at USDA, said the department has been working with the Office of Management and Budget on the dairy insurance issue.
Vaden also pledged to defend transparency in USDA's dealing with Congress and the general public.
Several senators asked Smith about the situation of beginning farmers and ranchers amidst low commodity prices.
Smith said a 2 percent rise in interest rates would be damaging to farmers.
In a discussion about diversification in agriculture, Smith said that, while previous generations of farmers had diversified their operations by raising a variety of crops and animals, today "an intelligent working wife is the best diversification."
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said she agreed that a spouse working outside the home often helps farmers survive.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., was absent for a medical procedure, and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., presided at the hearing.