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D.C., Schafer preparing for hearing

WASHINGTON - Late preparations and schedule changes were happening behind the scenes Wednesday in Washington as officials prepare for today's confirmation hearing for former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer to become the 29th U.S. secretary of agricu...

Ed Schafer

WASHINGTON - Late preparations and schedule changes were happening behind the scenes Wednesday in Washington as officials prepare for today's confirmation hearing for former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer to become the 29th U.S. secretary of agriculture.

A normally open Schafer has remained under a media blackout imposed by the White House since President Bush made the nomination announcement in December.

Schafer and his wife, Nancy, have been based in a Washington hotel since Tuesday, according to sources. He has been briefed on matters that may come up during questioning in the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, which takes place at 2:30 p.m. today.

The Senate Agriculture Committee has 21 members - 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

The immediate issue seems to be whether Schafer can be confirmed in time to be able to attend the State of the Union address Monday evening as a member of Bush's 15-member cabinet.


Before the 2:30 p.m. hearing, Schafer, his wife and daughter will meet in North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad's office in the Senate Hart Building. Also on hand will be Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. Conrad is the third-ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, and the senior senator from North Dakota.

About 30 minutes later, the North Dakotans will walk a short distance together to the adjoining Senate Russell Building and the Senate committee's permanent hearing room.

The hearing is expected to last 90 minutes to two hours, depending on the number of senators in the hearing and how many questions they ask.

At some point Friday or Monday, the committee could reconvene to vote. But - assuming there are no objections raised by even one senator - it's likelier that Senate leadership would seek to "discharge the committee" and bring the nomination straight to the floor.

If the Senate confirms the nomination, Schafer will be sworn in by either Bush or another top official.

Carter Wood, a former policy aide on Schafer's gubernatorial staff and a former political reporter for the Grand Forks Herald who today is a senior adviser for communications for the National Association of Manufacturers, said North Dakota Republicans in Washington are delighted, and some no doubt will attend the hearing.

"Those of us who used to work for him know how committed he is to the strength of the rural economy," Wood said. He said Schafer was a "strong believer in the ability of North Dakota's farmers and agribusinesses to compete, if they were given an opportunity to compete."

Another Schafer fan is Michelle Korsmo, executive vice president for Americans for Prosperity, a free-market grassroots organization.


Korsmo did political consulting in North Dakota, ran John Dorso's bid for governor and was executive director of the Bush campaign in North Dakota in 2000. She married John Korsmo, a former Schafer staff member.

"I am planning on going to support the governor," Michelle Korsmo said. She's a native of Gilby, N.D., where her parents still farm, and she attended North Dakota State University. She expects Schafer to be a good fit for the position. "He always had an affinity for ag. It's hard to care about business in North Dakota and not have ag as a cornerstone.

"That's what's great about him being nominated. He does know, from a personal standpoint, what it's like to be from a state that's focused on the ag economy - how policies from the USDA are set, and how it affects the end user."

How to watch Schafer's hearing

Former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer, now a resident of Fargo, will appear before the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee today during a hearing involving his nomination to be the secretary of the USDA.

Here is how you can view the 1 p.m. hearing:

- C-SPAN, the cable television channel devoted to covering Congress, will broadcast the hearing live.

- Those who do not receive C-SPAN can view the nomination hearing online:


Go to http://agriculture.senate.gov/ and click on "Hearings" in the Main Menu on the left side of the page.

When the January calendar pops up, click on the orange Jan. 24 "Nomination Hearing" box. Directions to view the hearing will appear.

NDSU, UND reps to attend hearing

Officials from North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota will attend Ed Schafer's confirmation hearing.

NDSU will be represented at the hearing by Keith Bjerke, vice president for university relations. Bjerke, a former North Dakota adjutant general, served on Schafer's cabinet.

Phil Harmeson, UND vice president of general administration, also will attend as the university's chief government relations officer.

Schafer is a UND alumnus and a member of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation boards.

AgWeek and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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