Senate Confirms Ohio Rep. Fudge as Housing Secretary

WASHINGTON (AP) -

The Senate has confirmed Marcia Fudge to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, placing the longtime Ohio lawmaker in charge of the agency just as Congress is poised to pass new benefits for renters and homeowners who have suffered economic losses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Fudge, who has represented parts of Cleveland and Akron in the House since 2008, is a former mayor and a longtime advocate for assistance for the needy. She said at her confirmation hearing in January that her first priority would be protecting the millions of people who have fallen behind on rent or mortgages due to loss of income during the pandemic, telling senators that “we cannot afford to allow people in the midst of a pandemic to be put in the streets.”

Her confirmation, 66-34, comes as the Senate is approving a slate of President Joe Biden’s nominees. The Senate is expected to confirm Judge Merrick Garland as attorney general Wednesday afternoon and could vote to confirm North Carolina regulator Michael Regan to lead the Environmental Protection Agency as soon as Wednesday evening if the nomination clears a procedural vote earlier in the day.

Fudge won bipartisan support for her nomination, including from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who said he would support her and Garland.

“These aren’t the nominees that any Republican would have picked for these jobs,” McConnell said ahead of the vote. “But the nation needs presidents to be able to stand up a team so long as their nominees are qualified and mainstream.”

Meanwhile, McConnell said he will oppose Regan’s nomination and also New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland to be interior secretary. He said the two nominees both support “far-left policies that crush jobs” in his state and across the country.

Democrats argued that Fudge’s experience was right for the times. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who lives in Fudge’s district, noted that parts of the area suffered a disproportionate number of foreclosures before the economic crisis a decade ago.

“She knows how for decades, communities have watched as factories closed, investment dried up, and storefronts were boarded over,” Brown said. “And she knows how many neighborhoods and towns have never had the investment they should – because of discrimination, because of redlining, because of decades of policy that funneled resources and jobs away from Black and brown communities.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Fudge “has a difficult job ahead of her” as millions of American renters are behind on payments and millions of homeowners are in forbearance.

“At the same time, we are on the verge of passing major assistance for renters and for homeowners,” Schumer said, just ahead of expected House passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. “As the incoming Secretary, I know Rep. Fudge will implement that assistance with alacrity.”

The COVID-19 relief bill provides about $30 billion to help low-income households and the unemployed afford rent and utilities, and to assist the homeless with vouchers and other support. States and tribes would receive an additional $10 billion for homeowners who are struggling with mortgage payments because of the pandemic.