AP sources: Biden picks Vilsack for USDA

Associated Press
Tom Vilsack

President-elect Joe Biden made two key domestic policy picks Tuesday, 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 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 preempting the president-elect's announcement.

When Vilsack's record was questioned by the group, Biden launched into a spirited defense of his longtime friend and ally, the person said.

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.

A longtime member of the House Agriculture Committee and a fierce advocate for food stamps, Fudge was originally discussed to become agriculture secretary.