A sweeping majority of 92 Senate members voted in favor of Tom Vilsack’s appointment as the 32nd U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, with only 7 Senatore voting against Vilsack.
Vilsack served in the same position during both terms of the Obama Administration.
Following Vilsack’s election, Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan wrote that she is very enthusiastic about future collaboration with Vilsack.
She emphasized that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and racial discrimination should be particularly addressed by the new Secretary.
Although elected, many opposed his appointment, including Sanders
Before his role in the Obama Administration, Vilsack served as a Governor of Iowa from 1999–2007.
As head of the Agriculture Department (USDA), Vilsack will coordinate 29 governmental agencies and nearly 100,000 workers working to support agriculture workers, as well as control food safety, the use of natural resources, and the development of rural areas.
Even though Vilsack was supported by the members from both parties, prominent members from different sides opposed the appointment of a new Secretary.
Rand Paul from Kentucky, Ted Cruz from Texas, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott from Florida, Dan Sullivan from Arkansas, and Josh Hawley from Montana were the Republican Senators who voted against Vilsack.
These Republicans were joined by Bernie Sanders from Vermont, a former Democratic Senator who is now an Independent.
Sanders said that, even though he has known the former Iowa governor for years, he cannot support the nomination because of Vilsack’s connection with corporate agriculture and lack of his support for small family farms.
Some prominent progressive groups, including those that comprise black farmers, also expressed their disapproval of Vilsack’s appointment.
A climate change opponent who has worked in the industry that causes them
Many opponents criticize Vilsack for his involvement with big agricultural companies.
Namely, after his term in the Obama Administration ended, Vilsack led the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), a non-profit organization focused on promoting the interests of the dairy industry.
With an annual salary of nearly U.S. $1 million, Vilsack backed up the industry widely believed to be one of the main culprits of climate change.
Given that the history of Vilsack’s actions contradicts the climate policy agenda set by the current U.S. administration, the newly elected Agriculture Secretary took an effort to explain that he will take a different stance toward the environmental issues.
During his online Senate hearing, Vilsack pledged to use the U.S. $30 billion received by USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation to help combat climate change.
He also said that he would encourage farmers to use biofuels and make products from agricultural waste. To exculpate himself, Vilsack pointed out that he is now a different person working in a different agricultural department.
And again - the question of racism!
Besides his close ties with corporate agriculture, Vilsack has been accused of failing to tackle the issues of racial injustice during his previous term in the Department of Agriculture.
The new Secretary has been primarily accused of failing to address the complaints about mistreatments before 2009.
Particularly controversial was also the case of former USDA Georgia director Shirley Sherrod.
Sherrod is a black woman fired after a video of her using racist comments was published online.
Later on, she rejected an offer to return to her job after it ‘turned out that her remarks were taken out of context.’
To address issues such as these, Vilsack announced that he would create an ‘equity task force’ whose mission would be to monitor indications of systemic racism in the Department of Agriculture.
This announcement goes hand in hand with an earlier executive order in which President Biden pledged to fight racial injustice by promoting equality in governmental offices and institutions.