There has been a whirlwind of speculation and endorsements surrounding who President-Elect Joe Biden would select as his Secretary of Agriculture. Some of the names thrown about included outgoing House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN 7th) and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH 11th). The later having received endorsements from several unions to be a perfect fit for the job.
However, as we have learned in the past 24 hours, President-Elect Biden has chosen Fudge to head up the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) post in his cabinet. For the top job at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), he seems to be looking towards a trusted ally; former Iowa Governor and Obama Administration Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. This signals a connection between Biden’s administration and former President Obama’s, in which Biden was Vice President. Vilsack, who is currently the head of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, stumped for Biden in Iowa during the campaign.
Immediate reactions to the Vilsack choice have been positive so far.
Iowa Senior Senator Chuck Grassley weighed in during his weekly press conference on the proposed pick of Vilsack. Grassley said that he liked the work Vilsack did as Agriculture Secretary for eight years and would be willing to support him in the position for another four. Grassley even went so far as to offer to speak for Vilsack on matters before the Senate Ag Committee.
Grassley said that he and Vilsack have enjoyed a good working relationship and that Vilsack has also been a great ally on talking trade, specifically on the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement and how it pertained to the dairy industry.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) put out a statement last night about Biden’s pick of Vilsack to head the USDA. NFU President Rob Larew said,
“Between pandemic recovery, the imminent threat of climate change, rampant corporate power, and chronic overproduction, family farmers and ranchers have significant challenges ahead of them in the next several years – and they need a strong Secretary of Agriculture behind them to make it through in one piece. After eight years leading USDA, Tom Vilsack has the necessary qualifications and experience to steer the agency through these turbulent times. He must use his impressive set of skills to implement and enforce rules that protect farmers from anticompetitive practices, enact meaningful structural reforms that balance supply with demand, restore competition to agricultural markets, strengthen local and regional food systems, advance racial equity in agriculture, and mitigate the threat of climate change.
“However, the Secretary’s obligation is not just to serve farmers; it’s also to serve the American public at large. Many of the aforementioned reforms will benefit everyone by building a food system that is fairer, more sustainable, and more resilient to disruptions. In addition to those changes, we would urge Vilsack to expand nutrition assistance programs in order to ensure that millions of individuals who are facing unemployment and food insecurity are able to meet their most basic needs through the pandemic.”
The selections of Fudge and Vilsack to head HUD and USDA, respectively, does not come without a little political intrigue. With Fudge leaving the House for a Cabinet position, it gives another blow to the slim Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine must call a special election to replace Fudge in the House of Representatives. However, without an official nomination until after Biden takes the Oath of Office, he has no need to do it until Congresswoman Fudge officially gets the job. DeWine is also a Republican and may want to take his time on ordering the election to replace Fudge, in order to slow any progress that Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi may want to make. However, DeWine also cannot leave a section of his state without proper representation in the House.
With the selection of Vilsack, there may be some worry in the agriculture community of a return to some unpopular Obama-era rules and regulations that the Trump administration campaigned on removing in 2016 and did so. One of the more recognized rules was the controversial Waters of The United States (WOTUS) rule. Many farmers and Ag groups called that rule a government overreach and applauded when President Trump did away with the rule. WOTUS was talked about on the campaign trail, and Biden may want to see its return. Biden also said that he wants to repair any rift he has with rural America and the voter base that supported Trump. A return of WOTUS may be a severe thorn in the President Elect’s bid to reunify the divided country.