Administration

Senate confirms Vilsack as Agriculture secretary

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Tom Vilsack to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the second time.

The Senate voted 92-7 to confirm Vilsack. He is the 32nd Agriculture secretary and the ninth member of President Biden’s Cabinet to be confirmed by the Senate. Vilsack previously served for eight years as head of USDA under former President Obama.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), voted against Vilsack’s nomination, marking the first senator who caucuses with the Democrats to vote against a Biden Cabinet pick. 

Vilsack’s nomination received pushback last month from progressives who felt he was too aligned with major agricultural corporations when he was Obama’s head of the USDA. Vilsack is now president of the dairy lobby group, the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

GOP Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas), and Dan Sullivan (Alaska) also voted against his nomination Tuesday.

Before serving in the Obama administration, Vilsack, 70, had served as governor of Iowa. He received bipartisan praise from the Senate Agriculture Committee and his nomination was unanimously advanced by the panel. 

Biden passed up Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) for the role, who was backed by a number of progressive groups and is a vocal force for protecting food banks and food insecurity programs. One climate group, 350.org, called Vilsack’s selection a “stark contrast” with the wide backing for Fudge.

Fudge is Biden’s nominee to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Vilsack fielded questions on trade during his confirmation hearing and said he will work to stabilize and secure trade policy in the aftermath of the Trump administration.  

He is also set to take over the agency during the coronavirus pandemic, which has put the spotlight on food insecurity. He said at his hearing he would bolster the capacity at food banks and pantries to keep up with the recent demand.

Vilsack said he is also focused on fighting climate change and partnering with Congress on efforts toward zero emission agriculture.

The Senate confirmed Linda Thomas-Greenfield to represent the United States at the United Nations as ambassador earlier on Tuesday.

Other confirmed Cabinet members include Veteran Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Updated at 3:17 p.m. 

Tags agriculture secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Antony Blinken Avril Haines Bernie Sanders Biden cabinet Dan Sullivan Denis McDonough Department of Agriculture Janet Yellen Joe Biden Josh Hawley Linda Thomas-Greenfield Lloyd Austin Marcia Fudge Marco Rubio Pete Buttigieg Rand Paul Ted Cruz Tom Vilsack USDA
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