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Public Statements

Executive Session

Location: Washington, DC

PAGE S14974
Nov. 18, 2003

Executive Session


Mr. BIDEN. Madam President, today I am voting against ending the debate on the nominations of Thomas C. Dorr to serve as the Under Secretary for Rural Development at the Department of Agriculture and also as a member of the Commodity Credit Corporation because I believe it is premature for this body to be voting on the appropriateness of Mr. Dorr to assume these positions. This is an unusual step for me, but, then again, this is a very unusual situation.

I have long recognized that a President should generally be entitled to have executive branch agencies run by the people he chooses. While his selections should be given considerable deference, the President's power of appointment is limited by the duty of the Senate to provide "advice and consent." Throughout my tenure in the Senate, I have supported countless nominees for Cabinet and other high-level positions, including many with whom I have disagreed on certain policies, but I have also cast my vote against confirmation when I have become convinced that the nominee is not suitable to fill the role. In this instance, I do not believe the Senate has all the facts that are necessary to make an informed judgment.

During this confirmation process, serious questions were raised about misrepresentations made by Mr. Dorr to the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding his farming arrangements with two family trusts in an effort to secure farm program payments, and the subsequent restitution made to the Federal Government of nearly $34,000. Rather than resolving these questions, last year's hearing on this nomination held by the Senate Agriculture Committee raised additional and disturbing questions, and the nominee thereafter failed to supply documents that might remove the cloud over this matter. That is why last June, I joined many of my colleagues in the Senate in urging the majority leader to withhold further Senate action on these nominations until the nominee furnished the requested information to clarify the important questions raised about his integrity in financial dealings with USDA and his truthfulness and veracity in sworn testimony before the Senate committee. I am disappointed that, rather than helping to secure a resolution of these serious issues, the majority leader has chosen to move these nominations forward. As such, I am left with no recourse other than to oppose cloture on these nominations.

Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, I rise today to speak on the nomination of Thomas C. Dorr as Under Secretary for Rural Development and as a member of the Commodity Credit Corporation board at the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The position at USDA to which Mr. Dorr has been nominated is highly influential in the continued development of rural America, holding the unique responsibility of coordinating Federal assistance to rural areas of the Nation.

Many people, when they think of rural America, may think of small towns, miles of rivers and streams, and perhaps farm fields. But I know that rural Wisconsin is also characterized by communities in need of firefighting equipment, seniors who need access to affordable healthcare services, and low-income families in need of a home. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development programs and services can help individuals, families, and communities address these and other concerns, which is why the office of Under Secretary for Rural Development is so important.

I have deep concerns regarding Mr. Dorr's comments and opinions about the future of rural America, particularly in light of his nomination to this important post. I disagree with Mr. Dorr's promotion of large corporate farms and his vision of the future of agriculture. Nevertheless, when it comes to confirming presidential nominees for positions advising the President, I will act in accordance with what I feel is the proper constitutional role of the Senate. I believe that the Senate should allow a President to appoint people to advise him who share his philosophy and principles. My approach to judicial nominations, of course, is different-nominees for lifetime positions in the judicial branch warrant particularly close scrutiny.

So, although I may disagree with Mr. Dorr's views on agriculture issues, I am not prepared at this point to oppose Mr. Dorr's nomination on those grounds. However, those are not the only grounds to oppose the nomination. I also have strong reservations about Mr. Dorr's public comments on issues of race and ethnicity and I am troubled by Mr. Dorr's apparent abuse of the Government's farm programs.

Furthermore, Mr. Dorr has not yet provided information to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry that has been requested of him. This information would clarify questions about his honesty and integrity in financial dealings with the Department of Agriculture as well as in sworn testimony to the Committee. I am concerned that Agriculture Committee rules and practice were apparently not followed with respect to the nomination hearing of Mr. Dorr. I am not alone in expressing these sentiments-I joined with forty-two of my colleagues, led by the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, in conveying these concerns to the majority leader.

[Page S14987]

The Senate should not be forced to vote on a nomination before we have all of the information that we feel is needed to make an informed decision. There may be good explanations for Mr. Dorr's testimony and answers, but the Senate does not have them yet. And we should get them before we vote on the nomination. I will therefore vote no on cloture.

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