WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate voted by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday to confirm Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture, his second term in Cabinet.
The former governor of Iowa spent eight years as head of the same agriculture department for the entire administration of former President Barack Obama. It was confirmed Tuesday on a 92-7 vote.
“We’re going to be a USDA that represents and serves all Americans,” Vilsack said after the vote. “I am optimistic about the future and believe our brightest days are yet to come.”
In his testimony, Vilsack, 70, strongly endorsed stimulating climate-friendly agricultural industries such as the creation of biofuels, saying: “Agriculture is one of our first and best ways to win” on climate change .
He proposed to “build a rural economy based on bioproduction” and “transform agricultural waste into a variety of products”. Vilsack also pledged to work closely with the Environmental Protection Agency to “boost the industry” of biofuels.
With systemic racial inequality now a topic of discussion nationwide, Vilsack also considered creating an “equity task force” within the department. His job, he said, would be to identify what he called “intentional or unintentional barriers” that prevent or discourage farmers of color from properly accessing federal aid programs.
Vilsack also strongly supported the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program – commonly referred to as Food Stamps or SNAPs – as a key instrument to help the country’s most vulnerable families survive and recover from the era of the pandemic. His Trump-era predecessor, Sonny Perdue, had sought to purge hundreds of thousands of people from SNAP recipient lists.
Vilsack received minimal denial or criticism during confirmation hearings. One of the “no” votes came from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who is Caucasian with the Democrats. Sanders later said Vilsack “would be fine” but he would have liked “someone a little more vigorous in terms of protecting family farms and taking charge of corporate farming.”
Vilsack’s approval was praised by the Food Research and Action Center, which focuses on food safety and fairness. The organization said the Vilsack Department faces an imminent challenge: “protecting and strengthening federal nutrition programs to help address the hunger crisis in our country which has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.” .