Biden picks Vilsack for USDA, Fudge for HUD
President-elect Joe Biden has decided to nominate Tom Vilsack as the agriculture secretary, and Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, as Housing and Urban Development secretary, according to media reports late Tuesday. Vilsack was ag secretary under President Barack Obama.
Eric Kessler of Arabella Advisers, a firm that advises foundations on strategies around food, said, “The American people are fortunate to have an agriculture secretary who is ready to turn around the department after the damage done by the Trump administration. I am confident he will build a team who will also make progress toward President-elect Biden’s goals of addressing climate change, our hunger crisis, racial reconciliation and the needs of rural America.”
In 2008, Kessler encouraged Obama to nominate Vilsack, a former Iowa Democratic governor, but this year had used his Farm to Fork coalition of 100 progressive food and agriculture leaders to hear from a series of candidates including Vilsack, Fudge, former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross and Robert Bonnie, a former USDA undersecretary for natural resources and environment who is heading Biden’s USDA review team. The coalition is scheduled to hear from Arturo Rodriguez, former head of the United Farm Workers today.
Kessler said that he will now focus on candidates for deputy secretary, the secretary’s staff and the undersecretary positions. Kessler said Vilsack will need a strong team to deal with the problems of the country at this time. The debate over the selection of the secretary, which focused on issues ranging from production agriculture to rural development to urban, has shown that “the Department of Agriculture is central to everything in this country,” Kessler said.
Rob Larew, president of the Democratic-leaning National Farmers Union, said, “Between pandemic recovery, the imminent threat of climate change, rampant corporate power, and chronic overproduction, family farmers and ranchers have significant challenges ahead of them in the next several years — and they need a strong secretary of agriculture behind them to make it through in one piece. After eight years leading USDA, Tom Vilsack has the necessary qualifications and experience to steer the agency through these turbulent times. He must use his impressive set of skills to implement and enforce rules that protect farmers from anticompetitive practices, enact meaningful structural reforms that balance supply with demand, restore competition to agricultural markets, strengthen local and regional food systems, advance racial equity in agriculture, and mitigate the threat of climate change.
“However, the secretary’s obligation is not just to serve farmers; it’s also to serve the American public at large. Many of the aforementioned reforms will benefit everyone by building a food system that is fairer, more sustainable, and more resilient to disruptions. In addition to those changes, we would urge Vilsack to expand nutrition assistance programs in order to ensure that millions of individuals who are facing unemployment and food insecurity are able to meet their most basic needs through the pandemic.”
Biden and his wife, Jill, are longtime friends of Vilsack and his wife, Christie. Vilsack endorsed Biden early this year.
Vilsack, who is 69 but will turn 70 in December, will probably have the easiest path to Senate confirmation of any of Biden’s candidates for Agriculture secretary. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told The Hagstrom Report earlier he would be happy to present his fellow Iowan to the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Fudge offered herself as a candidate to head USDA but represents suburban Cleveland, and Biden ultimately chose to place her at HUD.
The choices of Vilsack and Fudge were first reported by Politico and a few minutes later by The Washington Post and The New York Times.