WASHINGTON — The Senate voted 92-7 Tuesday to confirm Tom Vilsack as Agriculture secretary, sending the former Iowa governor back to a department he ran for eight years under President Barack Obama.
"His deep knowledge of agriculture and rural America is needed now more than ever," Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said ahead of the vote. "The COVID-19 crisis is continuing to disrupt our food supply chain. ... We have more than 50 million Americans today who are in a hunger crisis."
She noted the threat of climate change and that farmers of color are experiencing economic disparities and said Vilsack would consider "new ideas in a new era at the department."
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., the ranking member of Senate Agriculture, noting Vilsack's reputation, urged Republicans to vote to confirm him. "I trust that the secretary will work with Congress as the agriculture community tackles new and existing challenges," he said.
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Rick Scott, R-Fla., Rand Paul, R-Ky., Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, voted against confirmation.
As Agriculture secretary for President Joe Biden, Vilsack has several broad directives to meet. He is to enlist agriculture in the Democratic administration's push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, address a surge in food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 economic downturn, and end discriminatory policies and practices that have shut out Black and other minority farmers from USDA programs.
At his Feb. 2 hearing, Vilsack said he is ready to deliver in those four areas and to "build back the rural economy in better shape than it was before the COVID crisis."
Vilsack also told the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee that he would take on his old job fully aware that he must be adaptable.
"I also realize this is a fundamentally different time and I am a different person and it is a different department," Vilsack said, alluding to critics who say his nomination represents a missed opportunity to break with the status quo and install a watchdog rather than an ally for agriculture.
He vowed to address a history of racial discrimination in departmental programs. His opponents have said he had not done enough during his prior stint as secretary to make reforms.