Vilsack Tapped for Ag Secretary

Source: By  Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor • Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2020

Ag Groups Largely Praise Nomination, But Progressives and Minority Leaders Disappointed

Agricultural groups overall have praised Tom Vilsack for his earlier stint as USDA secretary. As expected, President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday nominated Vilsack to return to the job. (DTN file photo)
Agricultural groups overall have praised Tom Vilsack for his earlier stint as USDA secretary. As expected, President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday nominated Vilsack to return to the job. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) — Despite criticism from Black leaders and progressives, President-elect Joe Biden announced Thursday that his administration will nominate Tom Vilsack to return to USDA as Agriculture secretary.

Biden’s transition team announced multiple cabinet posts on Thursday, including naming Katherine Tai as nominee for U.S. Trade ambassador and Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Also named were Denis McDonough as secretary of Veteran Affairs and former Ambassador Susan Rice as director of the Domestic Policy Council.

Biden will hold an event Friday with the latest slate of nominees. As recovery begins on the coronavirus pandemic, Biden’s transition team stated the latest round of nominees “Will bring the highest level of expertise and bold vision to help all Americans seize new opportunities and build back better.”

Vilsack, who turns 70 next week, was former President Barack Obama’s longest-serving cabinet member, leading USDA from 2009 to 2107. He was a two-term governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007.

Most major agriculture and nutrition leaders praised reports that Biden had chosen Vilsack, though groups representing Black farmers and other civil rights leaders criticized Vilsack’s selection. Progressive groups, including unions, had backed Fudge for the Agriculture secretary post. The news website Politico reported minority employees, including Lloyd Wright, a former USDA director of civil rights, wrote Biden asking him to reconsider Vilsack’s nomination.

“When it came to issues of race, he was one of the worst I’ve ever come in contact with. What we don’t want is Vilsack to come back,” Wright said to Politico. “A reshuffling of the department leadership from four years ago will not do us any more good than what we have now. We didn’t gain anything under Vilsack.”

John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, said too little had been done under Vilsack’s tenure to address a long history of discrimination against Black farmers. Those challenges for Black farmers have continued under the Trump administration, he said. “Mr. Vilsack as secretary must expand Black farmer access to land and credit and reform USDA’s income support and insurance programs to end systemic discrimination,” Boyd said. “He must create outreach programs to help Black farmers participate in these programs and lift the veil of secrecy that hides the true extent of racial discrimination at USDA. I stand ready to work with Secretary Vilsack to meet these challenges — and to hold him accountable.”

Still, most major agricultural groups praised Vilsack’s earlier tenure at USDA. Zippy Duvall, president of the Republican-leaning American Farm Bureau, welcomed the news that Tom Vilsack will be nominated to be secretary of Agriculture.

“Tom Vilsack understands that the agriculture sector is far more complex than most people understand,” Duvall said. “He believes in a ‘big tent’ philosophy that supports all types of production and understands the importance of respecting farmers and ranchers as partners worthy of support in the race to achieve sustainability goals.”

|