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Inside Washington

Secretary Perdue’s balancing act with Trump

USDA Photo by Preston Keres Perdue with Trump on phone FPS.jpg
While at the Farm Progress Show, Secretary Sonny Perdue was interrupted by a call from President Trump who shared some insight regarding the trade deals currently in negotiations.
While speaking at Farm Progress Show, agriculture secretary shows farmers he’s "one of them.”

I don’t envy the job Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue does each day for the people in agriculture. He was selected to be a voice of reason in an Administration that previously did not have much experience with rural America beyond the many votes President Donald Trump received to secure his election.

When Trump won the election in 2016, I always said the hope would be that he’d surround himself with knowledgeable people. While speaking before farmers at the Farm Progress Show on Aug. 28, that’s how Perdue himself correlated his relationship with the President.

While speaking to the media, Perdue said Trump is a dynamic leader, and the essence of a good leader is one who is forceful, dynamic, directional and knows what he wants to do but always keeps a back door open to other opinions.

“That’s what I’ve found him to be,” Perdue said of Trump. “If I continue to speak up and talk to him about it, give him facts, he’s a business guy who understands that sometimes he may need to change his mind.”

For agriculture, that’s a good thing. From his early days in office, when Perdue talked Trump out of withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement, to recent weeks of making sure the Environmental Protection Agency’s actions on small refinery waivers and resulting ethanol demand destruction don’t get out of hand, Perdue has offered not only that steady voice of reason but also his firsthand experience from involvement in the agriculture industry for more than 40 years.

Perdue said he sees the President once or twice a week and reiterated the strong affection Trump has for farmers in rural America. Just moments after his comments about this affinity the President has for rural America, Trump called up Perdue while Perdue was on stage at the Farm Progress Show, and the phone conversation was on the microphone for all to hear.

After a few minutes of dialogue that mostly featured Trump, Perdue said he doesn’t do a lot of the talking in conversations with the President but definitely listens a lot. For agriculture, that listening is paying off by having that voice of reason correct statements and stop actions that could be brutal for farmers.

Perdue acknowledged the anxiety in the countryside but believes that the media’s representation that support for Trump is “waning” is inaccurate.

“Are people anxious still? Are people hopeful and ready for a solution? Absolutely,” Perdue said, adding that farmers are honest people who want to deal with people who are honest and realize that China has built its economy, military and goal of world dominance by stealing technology and innovation.

Just as farmers aren't in the business for only one year, they are used to the long view and understand what Trump is trying to do. “It’s no fun to be in economic distress,” Perdue said. “I don’t think what the media is trying to make out is farmers are leaving President Trump and his decisions; it’s not accurate whatsoever.”

Indeed, a Farm Futures survey of farmers in July found that two-thirds of those surveyed (66.6%) would vote for Trump if the election were to be held today.

Longtime broadcaster Max Armstrong said his interview with the agriculture secretary also gave Perdue an opportunity to defend press reports about a joke he made earlier this month that caught media flack: “What do you call two farmers in a cellar? A whine cellar.” Perdue said he actually had heard the joke from a farmer and meant the tone to be similar to how individuals joke about themselves.

Perdue said he never has a problem identifying with farmers due to the authenticity from his days growing up on a farm, his time as a veterinarian and years spent in the grain business. “These guys know I’m one of them,” Perdue said.

For those in agriculture, that’s exactly what they need during a time of constant uncertainty.

TAGS: Policy
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