Dec 7, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden risks strain with Congressional Black Caucus over USDA pick

Rep. Marcia Fudge

Rep. Marcia Fudge. Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Allies of Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) think Joe Biden is unlikely to pick her for Agriculture secretary, risking a strain with the Congressional Black Caucus as it seeks to turn the agency from farmer-focused to consumer-focused.

The big picture: Backed by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the CBC signaled that nominating Fudge — who sits on the Agriculture Committee — was a key priority for its members. A report that Tom Vilsack, a white man who already was Agriculture secretary for eight years, is the top choice for the job only highlights the disagreement.

The CBC argues the agency needs to be refocused to better serve minority communities.

  • "80% of the Agriculture Department’s work has nothing to do with farming," Clyburn told Fox News host Juan Williams early this month. “It is food stamps, nutrition, building schools in rural areas, making sure people have broadband.”
  • Fudge, a former prosecutor and mayor, has focused on education, child nutrition, food stamps and other community-support programs during her 12 years in the House.

Why it matters: While the president-elect is striving for racial and gender diversity in his Cabinet, it’s becoming clearer he will have a difficult time keeping all groups happy.

  • He appeased some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus by picking Xavier Becerra to run Health and Human Services, but there's a push by others to give a Latina a high-profile job.

Those problems will be compounded, lawmakers say, if Biden selects white candidates for positions where minorities were being either promoted or considered.

  • After leaving Agriculture, Vilsack earned almost $1 million his first full year leading the U.S. Dairy Export Council, a nonprofit representing dairy producers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
  • The Biden transition team declined to comment.
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