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Warnings Pile Up Against Trump's Really Horrible Pick for Top USDA Scientist

Trump pushing for Sam Clovis to serve as the USDA's top scientist is "a direct attack on science and our food and farm system," coalition says

Sam Clovis speaking at a Trump campaign rally in Ames, Iowa on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016.(Photo: Alex Hanson/flickr/cc)

A diverse coalition on Friday called for senators to oppose the nomination of Sam Clovis—President Donald Trump's controversial pick to serve as chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture—calling it "a direct attack on science and our food and farm system."

In their letter to senators, more than 50 groups, including Friends of the Earth, ActionAid USA, the National Family Farm Coalition, Patagonia, and Sierra Club, argue the former conservative talk radio host who also served as Trump campaign co-chair "lacks the formal training in the hard sciences and expertise in food and agriculture policy" to serve as undersecretary of research, education, and economics at the USDA.

In short, he has vocalized disregard for worker rights, is a climate change skeptic, and is not a scientist, so his serving in the post would violate the law, they write. 

From the letter:

Mr. Clovis has also stated that climate science is "junk science" and has made clear that Donald Trump's administration will not prioritize climate science in its agriculture policy. This is alarming given that our industrial agriculture systems are a leading cause of climate change and contribute at least 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Our country's food and agriculture systems face complex challenges—from pollinator declines and deteriorating soil health to severe drought and flooding due to our rapidly changing climate—and without competent, science-based leadership, the USDA will be unable to protect our environment and help thousands of farmers and their communities adapt to these worsening burdens.

Our farmers and food and agriculture workers who work in one of the most hazardous industries in our country also deserve the attention of an Undersecretary who understands, rather than dismisses, their challenges—especially around fair labor and immigration. Almost 90 percent of workers in our food system earn low or poverty-level wages. These workers need a Chief Scientist who will be fair in his or her oversight of statistical reporting on farm labor, wages, and finances. Sam Clovis is not that person. He is vocally against fair wages for working people and believes raising the minimum wage is "nonsensical." He is also against a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and supports the construction of a U.S -Mexico border wall.

Regarding the illegality of Clovis serving in the post, the coalition notes the

2008 Farm Bill [which] states that the nominee for undersecretary of REE, "shall be appointed by the President ...from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics." Past REE Undersecretaries include highly credentialed scientists such as biochemists, plant physiologists, and nutritionists.

"Clovis's nomination is an affront to America's farmers and citizens who deserve a healthy, resilient food system," Kendra Klein, staff scientist at Friends of the Earth, added in a statement

The groups' warning comes two days after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) urged Trump to withdraw Clovis's nomination "not only because he is a proud 'skeptic' of climate change and wildly unqualified for the position of USDA Chief Scientist—but also as a gesture to the American people that this administration is serious about rooting out the most hateful voices in our society."

For Trump to nominate "someone with views as backwards as Mr. Clovis's," the senators said in a statement Wednesday, "is not only a signal to the darkest and most evil forces in this country to carry on, but a clear as day message to the world that this administration continues to tolerate hate."

Trump's advocating of Clovis for the post sends "a clear as day message to the world that this administration continues to tolerate hate."
—Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)
Indeed, a recent CNN KFile review of Clovis's writings and radio broadcasts reveal him calling former Attorney General Eric Holder a "racist black," suggesting former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and was "given a pass because he is Black," and calling then-Secretary of Labor Tom Perez "a racist Latino." He also suggested members of the LGBTQ community should not be afforded 14th Amendment protections, arguing that "LGBT behavior" is a choice, and said it was permissible for businesses not to hire a person because of their sexual orientation.

"The extremist views Mr. Clovis has expressed and the racist conspiracy theories he has stoked about President Obama, former Attorney General Eric Holder, members of the LGBT community, and others have zero place in the public discourse, much less coming from the highest levels of our government," Schumer and Schatz said.

They vowed to "vehemently oppose his nomination," and also called on fellow Democrats as well as Republicans to reject the nomination.

In order to stop the nomination, three Republicans must join all the Democrats in voting no.

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