WASHINGTON – Early feedback from Democrats suggests the Senate confirmation process for former Gov. Sonny Perdue may not be marked by the same partisan conflicts that characterized consideration of former Georgia Rep. Tom Price’s health nomination.
Many Senate Democrats expressed cautious optimism about Perdue in recent days, a positive sign for the Republican as he waits for his federal paperwork and background check to be completed.
“He seems knowledgeable and pleasant,” said Joe Donnelly of Indiana, a centrist seen as a swing vote for Republicans.
“My initial impression is positive,” said Angus King of Maine, an Independent who tends to vote with Democrats but hasn’t yet met with Perdue. “The reaction that I’m getting from the farm community in Maine is quite positive.”
Almost all Democrats, however, said they have yet to make a final decision.
Perdue received especially high marks from the former Democratic governors now serving in the Senate, including from Tim Kaine of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. They previously worked with Perdue through the National Governors Association.
“I was his guest once at the Peach Bowl when Virginia Tech was playing and losing to the University of Georgia,” said Kaine. “I am inclined to be supportive, but I don’t make decisions about people until after their hearings are done. So I’ll monitor that. But I think highly of him.”
Democratic leaders have so far held their fire on Perdue, and by our count not a single Democratic senator has officially come out against him.
That’s great news for the two-term governor, who could very well avoid the divisive debate that dragged out the nominations of other Trump nominees such as Price, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
On the other hand, there’s still plenty of time to do battle and fortunes can turn on a dime, as former Labor nominee Andy Puzder can now attest. Perdue has a long record in Georgia that will be tough to hide from, including time in the state house, governor’s mansion and business ventures after he retired from public life.
Read more: Who is Sonny Perdue?
The Senate has at least four more high-level nominees it plans to consider before it turns to Perdue. It’s more than possible that Democrats are waiting for other battles to wind their course first before turning their attention to the former governor. They could also let his nomination sail through the Senate as they focus on bigger fish such as Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch.
Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee say they are waiting for Perdue’s paperwork to come through before they schedule his confirmation hearing, and it may be until March before it’s put on the books. In the meantime, Perdue continues to meet privately with senators and prepare for his turn before the C-SPAN cameras.
One key senator who has yet to commit to backing him: Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee. She released a carefully-worded statement after huddling with Perdue last week and says she’ll reserve judgment until after his paperwork comes through. Her judgment is important since many Midwestern Democrats look to her for guidance on ag issues.
When asked by one of your Insiders about whether she sees many Democrats opposing Perdue’s nomination, Stabenow said: “I don’t think so. We don’t know yet what the paperwork shows … so it would not be responsible for me to say until we have that but I don’t have any indication that it will be controversial.”
At this point, regional divides and eleventh-hour surprises may be what Perdue has to fear the most.
Missouri’s Roy Blunt, a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, is particularly optimistic about Perdue. He thinks most Democrats will have a tough time voting against him.
“Sonny Perdue will be one of the people who’ll have somewhere between 80 and 100 votes,” he said.