Grassley Frets Trump Too Focused on Diversity Before Confederate Sympathizer Nominated to Head USDA

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On Wednesday, before news broke that the Trump administration has tapped former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to head the US Department of Agriculture, Chuck Grassley took to Twitter to voice his concerns that Trump’s team was too focused on “social engineering” — a reference to weeks-long speculation that the president-elect was looking to pick a woman or Latino for the position in order to diversify his cabinet.

Speaking to WHO-TV’s Dave Price, Grassley expanded on his thoughts. “There’s some who worry that they’re worried about having ‘balance’ in the cabinet and they’re looking for a Hispanic or a woman,” he said, adding he thought Trump’s team was taking the decision to find someone for its last unfilled cabinet post too seriously.

Previously, Iowa Board of Regents president and agribusiness magnate Bruce Rastetter was rumored to be a leading contender for the position, a pick that would have left an Iowan in charge of the USDA following former Gov. Tom Vilsack’s tenure there. Rastetter, who served as an agricultural policy adviser for the Trump campaign, visited Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan last month, reigniting speculation.

Grassley had been angling for another Iowan for the post: Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, another Trump campaign adviser who is reportedly mulling a bid for governor in 2018.

Although Grassley didn’t get his wish, Trump did end up with a white man instead of a “social engineering” nominee, making his administration the first since Jimmy Carter’s to not have a Latino in its cabinet. And Perdue is very white: In 2010 as governor of Georgia, he signed into law a declaration that April be known as “Confederate History and Heritage Month” in the state.

After the news, Grassley appeared to have some lingering concerns that the nominee wouldn’t hail from the Midwest, tweeting, “I’m interested in how MidWest Ag [sic] will [have] a seat at the table.”

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.