Senate

Sanders votes against Biden USDA nominee Vilsack

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Tuesday voted against Tom Vilsack to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), making him the first senator who caucuses with the Democrats to vote against a Biden Cabinet nominee.

Sanders joined six Republicans in opposing Vilsack, who ran the agency for all eight years of the Obama administration.

“I like Tom and I’ve known him for years. I think we need somebody a little bit more vigorous in terms of protecting family farms and taking on corporate agriculture,” Sanders told reporters after the vote. “I think he’ll be fine, but not as strong as I would like.”

The Senate confirmed Vilsack in a 92-7 vote. Sanders joined GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rick Scott (Fla.) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska) in voting against the nominee.

Progressives have pushed back on Vilsack’s nomination because they felt he was too aligned with major agricultural corporations during his previous stint as USDA chief. More recently, Vilsack has been president of the dairy lobby group the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Vilsack’s work as a lobbyist also raised concerns among progressives, many of whom wanted restrictions on former lobbyists working in the Biden White House. The U.S. Dairy Export Council is a major industry lobbying group and Vilsack previously worked as a registered lobbyist for the law firm Dorsey & Whitney.

“I opposed his confirmation today because at a time when corporate consolidation of agriculture is rampant and family farms are being decimated, we need a secretary who is prepared to vigorously take on corporate power in the industry,” Sanders said in a statement. 

“I heard from many family farmers in Vermont and around the country who feel that is not what Tom did when he last served in this job,” the senator added.

Sanders fought against a bill Vilsack was behind in 2016, which required the labeling of genetically engineered food but was less strict than a similar state law in Vermont. Obama signed the measure in July 2016, effectively nullifying Vermont’s statute.

Biden passed up Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) for the USDA post. Fudge was backed by a number of progressive groups and has been a key advocate for food banks and food insecurity programs.

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

— Updated at 4:24 p.m.

Tags Bernie Sanders Biden cabinet Dan Sullivan Josh Hawley Marcia Fudge Marco Rubio Rand Paul Ted Cruz Tom Vilsack USDA

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