The Biden administration plans to pull Elaine Trevino's nomination as chief agricultural negotiator at USTR.
The Agriculture Department is now considering placing Elaine Trevino, former CEO of the Almond Alliance of California, in a senior position at the department. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
By Meredith Lee and Doug Palmer
03/15/2022 01:33 PM EDT
Updated: 03/15/2022 03:55 PM EDT
A key Biden agricultural trade nominee is withdrawing from the confirmation process, six months after her nomination was first announced.
In a letter to President Joe Biden, Elaine Trevino said “it now seems clear that there is no timely path forward to gain Senate confirmation” as chief agricultural negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative. Trevino, the former CEO of the Almond Alliance of California, added that she was “excited to join the Administration in another capacity” working on agricultural supply chain issues.
A senior administration official said the White House is looking to appoint Trevino to a non-Senate confirmed post; another person with knowledge said the Agriculture Department is considering placing her in a senior position at the department.
The withdrawal of Trevino’s nomination, however, will prolong the vacancy in a key role at USTR at a time when agricultural trade and rising food prices have attracted global interest. Russia’s war in Ukraine has triggered foreign export controls on grain and prompted rising concern about food supplies around the world. Agricultural negotiations are also a major component of the Biden administration’s proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. And at home, farm groups want USTR to make sure that China, Canada, Mexico and other countries are honoring previous commitments they made to open their markets to U.S. farm goods.
Trevino’s nomination had the support of industry groups: A coalition of more than 170 farm and agricultural organizations sent a letter in October to Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) urging the committee to send Trevino’s nomination to the Senate floor for a vote “as soon as possible.”
Trevino also lined up a slew of lawmakers to send letters on her behalf, a move that other administration officials later said they thought was odd and appeared unprofessional, according to two Biden officials familiar with the matter.
The lobbying campaign didn’t help. Six months later, Trevino had yet to receive a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee. Lawmakers have been told there were “paperwork issues” with the nomination.
The White House, USTR and Wyden’s office have all declined to comment on the delay. And Trevino, who quit her job at the Almond Alliance months ago, has also not responded to recent reporter emails and phone calls asking for information. When she did reply previously, Trevino referred POLITICO to the White House for comment.
Asked about the issues with Trevino’s nomination on Monday night, neither Wyden nor Crapo provided any details.
Crapo said in an interview that he was aware there were issues with Trevino’s nomination, but he didn’t know what they were.
The Joint Committee on Taxation normally pores over the nominee’s previous tax returns. The staffers are so thorough they often find something that needs to be corrected. That part of the process appeared to have held up Trevino’s nomination, according to two people familiar with the nomination.
Republican and some Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, have grown frustrated with the prolonged and unexplained failure to fill the post.
Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley earlier on Tuesday blasted the “lackadaisical approach that this administration has taken to trade and particularly without enough emphasis upon agriculture.”
Another key agricultural trade position — the trade undersecretary at USDA — has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since Biden took office. The White House had been vetting a man with extensive business ties for the role, but he withdrew in recent weeks after being told he would need to divest of a large swath of his financial holdings, according to one USDA official and one lobbyist.
“What is Biden waiting for?” Grassley asked. “Why does it take so long to fill some of these very key positions in agriculture?”
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