During a teleconference today with reporters, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), expressed “caution” about Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan. The Des Moines Register asked Grassley if he had any response to Obama’s recent subcabinet appointments at the Agriculture Department. He responded by saying that he believed that most of the nominees where “well qualified” except for — referring to Merrigan — “the woman from Tufts”:
GRASSLEY: I think everybody’s well qualified to do what they’re doing, and there’s only one that I would raise a question about. And I probably shouldn’t be raising a question except some things that I’ve read about where she’s coming from, and I don’t remember her name, but the woman from Tufts.
QUESTION: Kathleen Merrigan.
GRASSLEY: What’s her name?
QUESTION: Kathleen Merrigan.
GRASSLEY: Yes. Whoever – whatever her name is, I’ve read some things that would make some caution — cause me to be cautious about her, but I need to get acquainted with her because it’s not fair just to read third-party points and know exactly where she’s coming from.
Asked to explain specifically what gave him pause about Merrigan, Grassley responded:
GRASSLEY: I think, with – I don’t know whether I can point to a specific thing, but it tends to me to be having an unrealistic view of American production agriculture.
It’s not entirely clear why Grassley hasn’t had a chance to “get acquainted” with Merrigan. After all, he sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee which held her confirmation hearing on April 1. If the senator missed the hearing, he can “get acquainted” by watching Merrigan’s testimony on the Agriculture committee website.
The “third-party” talking points that the senator is currently basing his opinion on appear to be from the agribusiness community. In response to the White House announcing her nomination in February, Steve Dittmer of the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation attacked Merrigan as unqualified:
Kathleen Merrigan has absolutely no real-world agricultural experience. Her career has been strictly in political (including Leahy and Kennedy), university or government positions. Her interface with agricultural producers has been in developing organic farming standards, hardly a place for even outside exposure to mainstream agricultural needs and problems. Her most recent position was a so-called “agricultural, food and nutrition” program at Tufts University in Boston. … That program is charged with “social change” and generating “models of alternative systems.”
In reality, it is precisely because Merrigan has so much experience in crafting and researching agricultural policy — in “university or government positions” — that her nomination drew “cheers from food-safety advocates.” Indeed, as a staffer on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Merrigan helped develop the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 which “created national standards for organic foods and a federal program to accredit them.” Under President Clinton, Merrigan worked for the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service where she “worked on many conventional USDA agriculture programs.”
Most recently, Merrigan headed the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program where she researched, among other things, sustainable development and policy implementation. Whatever part of Merrigan’s resume that Grassley finds troubling, he’s a bit late to the game. The Senate confirmed Merrigan on April 2.