Biden takes fire from progressives over pick for USDA secretary: Report

Media-declared President-elect Joe Biden has already started announcing his nominees for key roles in his administration — but not everyone in his caucus is happy with his picks.

In particular, those on the far left of the Democratic Party are said to be furious over Biden’s choice to name Tom Vilsack to reprise his role as secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Washington Examiner reportsVilsack served as Agriculture secretary for the entirety of President Barack Obama’s eight years in office.

Primarily at issue, according to the Examiner, are complaints from progressives that Vilsack, previously a two-term governor in Iowa, is a 69-year-old white man with a questionable history of supporting civil rights. One state representative in Ohio said Biden ought to nominate a Black woman for the role.

Others said Vilsack has been far too cozy with Big Ag business conglomerates and multinational corporations, at the expense of independent American farmers and small businesses, the Examiner reported.

Stepping in hot water

Signs of trouble first emerged earlier in the week when The Intercept published leaked videos from a private conference call Biden held with civil rights leaders, during which NAACP president Derrick Johnson shared his own complaints about Vilsack.

With an eye toward the upcoming Senate runoff races in Georgia, Johnson recalled Vilsack’s choice to fire Shirley Sherrod, then the director of rural development for the Georgia Agriculture Department, over an out-of-context video clip. Sherrod has remained exceedingly popular with Black voters in the state since then, The Intercept reported.

“If you consider the victory that you appreciated in Georgia, it was around 12,000 votes. And so as you consider appointments, you also must consider what impact would that have on voters in the state of Georgia,” Johnson told Biden, according to The Intercept. “And I will submit to you that former Secretary Vilsack could have a disastrous impact on voters in Georgia. Shirley Sherrod is a civil rights legend, a hero.”

Later, Biden seemed to brush off Johnson’s concerns about Vilsack and reportedly told Johnson he would “learn more about Vilsack’s record” in the coming days.

Treading on thin ice

Now that Biden’s choice of Vilsack has been made official, progressives including Shawn Sebastian, a senior strategist for the progressive advocacy group People’s Action, have come forward to publicly condemn the move.

“It is a huge mistake by President-elect Biden’s transition team to completely dismiss the swift, strong, and clear reaction against Tom Vilsack from the Black voters who delivered Biden his victory and the rural voters he most needs to win over,” Sebastian said in a statement shared by the Examiner.

Michael Stovall, who founded what Politico described as “a coalition of Black growers and producers from key Southern states working to raise awareness on issues faced by Black farmers,” also chimed in, telling the outlet:

Vilsack is not good for the agriculture industry, period. […] When it comes to civil rights, the rights of people, he’s not for that. It’s very disappointing they even want to consider him coming back after what he has done to limited resource farmers and what he continues to do to destroy lives.

Biden already seemed to be treading on thin ice with progressives — and his choice to tap Vilsack for USDA secretary certainly isn’t helping matters. If the former vice president can’t even get everyone in his party on board, what hope does he have to “unite” America?

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