Senate confirms Vilsack as agriculture secretary
The Senate today confirmed Tom Vilsack as President Biden’s Agriculture secretary.
The vote was 92 to 7.
The senators voting against Vilsack were Rick Scott, R-Fla.; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Josh Hawley, R-Mo.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama nominated Vilsack, he was confirmed unanimously.
Vilsack served as agriculture secretary for eight years during the Obama administration. Since that time, Vilsack has served as CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and as a strategic adviser to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.
Vilsack said in a statement immediately after the vote, “I am grateful to President Biden and Vice President Harris for nominating me to serve in their administration and thank the U.S. Senate for their show of support today. I look forward to leading the talented, dedicated team at the Department of Agriculture. We’re going to be a USDA that represents and serves all Americans. We have a lot of work ahead of us to contain the pandemic, transform America’s food system, create fairer markets for producers, ensure equity and root out systemic barriers, develop new income opportunities with climate smart practices, increase access to healthy and nutritious food, and make historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy in rural America. I am optimistic about the future and believe our brightest days are ahead.”
The schedule allowed for 20 minutes of debate, but after a short statement by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Senate Agriculture ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark., the roll was called.
Stabenow said she was sure that Vilsack would address both climate change and racial discrimination at USDA.
Stabenow also noted that the committee vote on Vilsack had been unanimous in favor of advancing his nomination.
Boozman said that he and Stabenow had gone to extraordinary lengths to arrange a confirmation hearing before the committee was organized because they wanted Vilsack in place, and that Boozman would vote for confirmation.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who introduced Vilsack to the committee, told rural reporters earlier today that he would urge all senators to vote to confirm him.
Vilsack’s record as secretary in terms of helping Black farmers has been criticized, but Grassley in a floor speech Tuesday defended Vilsack’s record.
Grassley said, “I’ve long worked toward ensuring Black farmers receive justice for the decades of discrimination that occurred at the USDA.
“People have often asked me why in the world a senator from Iowa would get involved in this issue.
“While there aren’t many Black farmers in Iowa, my state has a long history of fighting against oppression of African Americans dating back to the Underground Railroad. There’s no reason to stop that trend.
“In my first discussion with then-to-be Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack in 2009, I brought up my work in the Pigford Consent Decree.
“A provision I led in the 2008 farm bill enabled more Black farmers to bring their claims forward and authorized USDA $100 million for additional settlements.
“Mr. Vilsack vowed then to work closely with me on the issue and then immediately got to work.
“Under the leadership of Secretary Vilsack, USDA discovered the $100 million wasn’t enough to cover settlements that Black farmers were entitled to under the consent decree.
“So in 2010, part of Secretary Vilsack’s budget request included over $1 billion to ensure a robust settlement for all Black farmers who were discriminated against.
“The Claims Resolution Act was signed by President Obama in December of 2010 and implemented successfully by Secretary Vilsack.
“Besides the Pigford settlements, a top priority during Secretary Vilsack’s previous tenure was ensuring a comprehensive plan to improve USDA’s record on civil rights.
“He made it clear to all employees that discrimination of any form will not be tolerated at USDA.
“My support for justice to those who have faced discrimination remains constant. And I am looking forward to working with Secretary Vilsack and other leaders in Congress to ensure equal rights for every farmer and family in this country.
“I am glad to have the opportunity to set the record straight on Secretary Tom Vilsack’s solid record in pursuing justice for victims of discrimination.
“Mr. Vilsack is the right person for this job.
“I know Secretary Vilsack will continue to work for the family farmers and spotlight their contributions to agriculture and society.
“As an Iowan, that’s part of his nature.
“I urge my colleagues to confirm Secretary Vilsack once again so that the Department of Agriculture has the necessary leadership in place to continue its important work, supporting those that feed and fuel the country and the world.”
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