Biden Picks Tom Vilsack, Marcia Fudge For Cabinet, Gets It Half Right
Joe Biden has chosen two more members of his Cabinet, and we are very enthusiastic about one of 'em! That would be Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who's been chosen as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, although she was actively campaigning to be appointed to head the US Department of Agriculture. For that post, Biden wants Tom Vilsack, who had the same job in the Obama administration. Marcia Fudge is terrific and probably would have been a better choice for Agriculture, so this is going to be a somewhat grumpy Nice Normal Things post. Joe, you could have done better!
As Politico notes, USDA was the posting Fudge wanted and openly campaigned for. She serves on the House Agriculture Committee, and chairs the Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations. She would have been terrific at Ag, where she would have been the first Black woman to lead the department. Plus, there's the optics thing:
Fudge lamented just last month in an interview with POLITICO that Black policymakers have traditionally been relegated to just a handful of Cabinet positions — including HUD secretary.
"As this country becomes more and more diverse, we're going to have to stop looking at only certain agencies as those that people like me fit in," she said. "You know, it's always 'we want to put the Black person in Labor or HUD.'"
That said, HUD absolutely does need a competent leader after four years of being run by Ben Carson, who notoriously seemed completely unaware of important details of what the agency even does. (Yes, we know, commenters, we could have ended the sentence with "completely unaware.") The department will need a thorough house-cleaning after the Trump administration, and Carson himself, treated HUD as a dumping ground for campaign workers who weren't qualified for their very well-paid jobs. And Crom knows housing will be a vitally important part of the Biden administration's plan to rebuild after the pandemic:
The next HUD secretary will take over amid an acute housing crisis, as millions of tenants walloped by the pandemic-driven economic crisis face eviction and massive back-rent bills. The Biden administration is expected to push for Congress to pass a relief package dedicating billions of dollars to rent relief, and HUD will likely seek additional funding to address homelessness.
Fair housing will also be a priority. The Biden transition lists "racial equity" as a Day One priority, alongside Covid-19, the economic crisis and climate change. The gap in homeownership rates between white and Black Americans has never been wider, a key driver of the persistent racial wealth gap.
Not mentioned by Politico, but also a biggie: HUD will play a big role in Biden's climate agenda. His climate plan involves reducing the carbon footprint of US building stock 50% by 2035. Public housing is going to be a huge part of that effort, which will involve retrofitting existing homes and apartments buildings with better insulation and windows and replacing filthy polluting furnaces with efficient heat pumps.
Oh, yes, and then there's the important work of bringing back the Obama-era rules that would strengthen the Fair Housing Act by making sure that local governments are taking active measures to ensure housing desegregation in order to qualify for federal housing funds. No word yet on which particular suburb Sen. Cory Booker will be sent to, or whether HUD will simply move him around from location to location to make sure more towns can get their fair share of him, yum.
Over at Agriculture, Politico advises us, Biden wanted Vilsack primarily because he already knows the department and can get right to work:
One person familiar with Biden's thinking said Vilsack's previous experience running the department was instrumental in the decision because the president-elect wanted someone who could immediately tackle the hunger and farm crises that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. This person added Biden was impressed by Vilsack's tenure as head of the department.
While leading USDA, Vilsack focused on leveraging the $150 billion department's mission beyond its traditional focus on farmers, delving deeper into other areas like rural development and nutrition programs that aid millions of low-income Americans. He oversaw a major update to school nutrition standards that was spearheaded by then-first lady Michelle Obama.
Fair enough, but we'd point out that agriculture policy, and especially federal nutrition programs, are right in Marcia Fudge's wheelhouse, and yes we're going to keep saying she would have been the better match, grr.
Fudge would also have been a better pick to fix USDA's long-term, and utterly shameful, history of racial inequity in agricultural policy. We're still mad at Tom Vilsack for firing Shirley Sherrod in 2010 after Andrew Breitbart falsely accused her of doing racism against a white farmer she'd actually helped. (To be clear, the shitty treatment of Sherrod also came directly from the Obama White House, and even, initially, from the NAACP, which briefly threw her under the bus before getting its facts straight. We'd forgotten that part!) Vilsack and the White House apologized for having fired Sherrod in response to the rightwing hit piece, but the damage had been done.
On top of Sherrod's firing, there's this, too:
An investigation last year by The Counter, a nonprofit newsroom, found that USDA had falsely inflated the department's record on civil rights under Vilsack's leadership.
That's really not good. We get that Biden wants someone who know the agency, but we're really not very happy about Vilsack's track record, and again we say Grr, the end.
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