Last week when Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman was questioned by reporters whether she would return to the White House for another four years she said she "serves at the pleasure of the President." But on Friday she turned in a letter of resignation for the head agriculture position.
Veneman is the first woman agriculture secretary and has been praised by the industry for her handling of the first domestic bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) case. Industry insiders describe her as a "very loyal person," "diligent in carrying out the agenda of the White House" and "methodical who put a good team around her."
Immediately following the election, National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) vice president of public policy Jon Doggett had a good feeling Veneman would be staying around. "This is a president who values loyalty and rewards loyalty with loyalty. Veneman has been a loyal soldier in the Bush army. I don't see her being forced out." He did point out that few agriculture secretaries stay a full two terms. "There is a very good possibility in the next four years that Veneman will seek to do something else," Doggett says.
Mark Maslyn, American Farm Bureau Federation director of public policy, says in Veneman's four years as agriculture secretary she was faced with three major challenges in a short time: 9-11, the 2002 farm bill and BSE. Maslyn doesn't recall an ag department that has had to deal with so many monumental issues in such a short time frame.
Talk has also circulated about U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Chief Rob Zoellick leaving. Potential replacements if he does leave could be Veneman or Allen Johnson, chief agriculture trade negotiator in the USTR. With Texas Democrat Rep. Charlie Stenholm losing this election season, he may be another potential replacement, since he is a moderate democrat who has regularly sided with the Bush Administration. White House agriculture advisor Chuck Conner is also a possibility.
An official announcement will be made by the White House Monday on Veneman's resignation. She will remain in her position until a replacement is named. Maslyn suspects with Veneman and three other cabinet resignations being announced today, the White House has already identified the successors.