Biden Picks Fudge for Housing, Vilsack for USDA

WASHINGTON (AP) -
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaks at a campaign stop for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at the LOFT on Jefferson, in Burlington, Iowa.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Joe Biden made two key domestic policy picks, selecting Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge as his housing and urban development secretary and former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reprise that role in his administration, according to five people familiar with the decisions.

The picks on Tuesday highlighted Biden’s delicate balancing act as he builds out his Cabinet, seeking to diversify his picks and reward the coalitions that helped elect him while also following his instincts to surround himself with close allies who served in the Obama administration.

Fudge, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, was just elected to a seventh term representing a majority Black district that includes parts of Cleveland and Akron. Vilsack spent eight years as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Obama administration and served two terms as Iowa governor.

Their intended nominations were confirmed to The Associated Press by five people familiar with one or both of the decisions who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting the president-elect’s announcement.

Biden has viewed Fudge as a leading voice for working families and a longtime champion of affordable housing, infrastructure and other priorities, while Vilsack was selected in part because of the heightened hunger crisis facing the nation and the need to ensure someone was ready to run the department on day one, according to those briefed on the decision.

Biden’s relationship with Vilsack goes back decades. He was an early supporter of Biden’s first campaign for president in 1988 while Vilsack was the mayor of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. He endorsed Biden a year before the 2020 election and campaigned tirelessly for him in Iowa, the nation’s first caucus state. Biden adopted aspects of Vilsack’s rural policy agenda as Democrats look to make up ground they’ve lost to Republicans in rural areas over the past decade.

Vilsack entered politics in large part because of tragedy, when the mayor of Mount Pleasant was gunned down at a city council meeting in 1986. Vilsack, then a young lawyer, had grown up in Pittsburgh and moved with his wife, Christie, to her Iowa hometown. He was recruited to seek the mayor’s office, then served two terms in the Iowa Senate before being the first Democrat to win the governorship in 30 years.

After two terms, Vilsack ran a 10-week campaign for the 2008 Democratic nomination before withdrawing and throwing his support to Hillary Clinton, even as Biden remained among the field. Vilsack was a finalist for Clinton’s running mate that year.

Fudge’s appointment would cut into the Democrats’ slim majority in the House. And while her seat is considered safely Democratic, an election for her replacement may be months off.

Her immediate priority would be dealing with the eviction crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

A federal eviction moratorium runs through the end of 2020. Even if it was extended, more than 23 million renters would face eviction unless they are able to come up with some help to pay months in back rent.

There is money for rental assistance in the current bipartisan COVID-19 relief effort. But most experts said Congress will have to do much more in terms of rental assistance and possibly working to extend the moratorium. Some expect the assistance could be needed for a year or two.

Politico first reported the news of Fudge’s selection, while Axios was first to report Vilsack as agriculture secretary.