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Senate panel advances Vilsack nomination to head Agriculture Dept.

Senate panel advances Vilsack nomination to head Agriculture Dept.
© Haiyun Jiang

Agriculture secretary nominee Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE received bipartisan praise from senators during his confirmation hearing Tuesday, with a Senate panel voting unanimously to advance his nomination to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) again.

“It’s not lost on me ironically that this is Groundhog Day and I’m back again," Vilsack, 70, quipped in his opening remarks before the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Vilsack, who is president of the dairy lobby group the U.S. Dairy Export Council, served for eight years as head of the USDA under former President Obama. Before that, he was the governor of Iowa.

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Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy On The Trail: Trump threatens a Tea Party redux Managers seek to make GOP think twice about Trump acquittal MORE (Ark.), the top Republican on the Senate panel, remarked about Vilsack's “excellent reputation” in welcoming him to the hearing Tuesday.

Vilsack also received across-the-aisle support from GOP Sen. Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers MORE, a senator from his home state of Iowa. The senator introduced Vilsack and said he “can’t think of a single quarrel that I’ve had with Secretary Vilsack.”

Grassley added that Vilsack knows agriculture well and that Vilsack also knows the importance of maintaining the institution of the family farm.

Vilsack's nomination was advanced later in the day by a voice vote. It now heads to the full Senate, where it requires a simple majority.

Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDemocrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill Senate Democrats offer fresh support for embattled Tanden Watch live: Schumer, Senate Democrats hold press briefing MORE (D-Mich.), the incoming chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement that she looks forward to his quick confirmation by the full Senate.

During his confirmation hearing, Vilsack fielded questions on trade, saying that he will work collaboratively with the rest of the administration on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and provide advice and counsel on additional free trade agreements.

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“I think it's fair to say that we have work to do to make sure that we have a competitive opportunity,” Vilsack said.

Stabenow called former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' MORE’s trade policies “chaotic” and said they “destroyed markets that took decades to build.”

Vilsack told Stabenow that he will work to stabilize and secure trade policy that “doesn’t create havoc on the market.”

He discussed the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and said he would work to make sure the USDA takes a greater role in fighting food insecurity.

He said he would bolster the capacity at food banks and pantries to keep up with the recent demand, adding that he will “make this system much more resilient.” 

Vilsack said he hopes to work to fight climate change, including partnering with Congress on efforts toward zero emission agriculture.

He was also pressed by senators on his stance on the biofuel industry. 

“Biofuels pay a role in reducing emissions and providing job opportunities in all parts of the country,” he told Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference Klobuchar, Murkowski urge FTC to protect domestic abuse victims' data MORE (D-Minn.).

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstRepublicans demand arms embargo on Iran after militia strikes in Iraq Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal Democrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill MORE (R-Iowa) told him about her concern over promises Obama gave to farmers in the biofuel industry. Vilsack answered by telling her he drives a 2006 Ford Focus but also wants to educate people on the environmental benefits of biofuels.

“I would remind him that there are so many, many Americans like me and my wife that have cars that are six, seven, eight, 10, 12 years old and that the reality is that we’re going to need both,” he said. “We’re going to need a biofuel industry.”

He also touted President Biden’s commitment to advance biofuels on the campaign trail.

Updated: 3:17 p.m.