Clyburn: Agriculture Department too focused on white Midwestern states, needs a diversity pick as Secretary

Rep. James Clyburn thinks American farmers need a black woman as the next Secretary of Agriculture. He’s tired of white Midwestern states getting all the attention when it comes to the public’s perception of farmers. It is reported that Clyburn is going to bat for Rep. Marcia Fudge to be chosen as the pick for Biden’s cabinet.

Who knew that this cabinet position would cause in-fighting among the Democrats? Clyburn, credited with saving Joe Biden’s presidential campaign with his support for the candidate in the South Carolina primary race, is putting pressure on the incoming administration for more black picks. The irony in Clyburn’s demand that Biden chooses Fudge is that she’s an Ohioan herself. While Clyburn complains that the Midwest gets too much attention, at the expense of states with large black populations like those in the South, his choice is a Midwesterner herself. She ticks the box for a black choice, chosen for the color of her skin, and probably for her gender, too. Clyburn and other Democrats credit a large turn-out of African-American women voters for Biden’s win.

The shortlist of candidates under consideration for Secretary of Agriculture are reported to be Rep. Fudge, former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and Tom Vilsack (Iowa), who already had the job in the Obama-Biden administration. Fudge is the progressive candidate in this group. She’s a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and Clyburn says Biden needs to skip recycled choices from Obama’s administration. Clyburn wants Biden to shake things up, not go with the status quo type of choice. That is a complaint that has already arisen by the progressive left – Biden is too focused on more moderate choices. Fudge is currently Chair of the Nutrition Subcommittee on the House Agriculture Committee.

“I feel very strongly,” Mr. Clyburn said in an interview on Wednesday about Ms. Fudge, who leads the nutrition and oversight subcommittee on the House Agriculture Committee.

“It’s time for Democrats to treat the Department of Agriculture as the kind of department it purports to be,” he added, noting that much of the budget “deals with consumer issues and nutrition and things that affect people’s day-to-day lives.”

This isn’t normally a cabinet position that creates a lot of attention. This time, though, it is seen as a proxy battle between the moderate wing of the Democrat Party and the progressive wing. It’s easy to understand that Vilsack probably isn’t the best choice since he’d play into the criticism that Biden’s administration is the third term of the Obama administration. It will be, of course, but Biden wants you to think he is his own man and his administration will be the most progressive ever, as promised during the campaign. The problem with that is that Joe is a status quo kind of guy, a creature of The Swamp for almost fifty years. He is not a man to shake things up. Remember, he was chosen by the DNC as their guy in the large Democrat field in 2019 because he was seen as the boring, safe choice.

Heidi Heitkamp is a moderate Democrat. The suggestion that she be picked is giving progressives the vapors. She is seen as too friendly to the fossil fuel industry and corporate agribusiness. Both she and Vilsack are treading lightly as Clyburn lobbies for Fudge.

“This is a choice that only Joe Biden can make, and he will make it understanding the unique challenges of rural America and what needs to happen in rural America moving forward,” said Ms. Heitkamp, a moderate who was defeated in 2018 after serving as attorney general and then senator in one of the most sparsely populated states in the country.

Recalling her campaign efforts on behalf of Mr. Biden’s “great rural plan,” Ms. Heitkamp predicted the president-elect would “pick the person who can implement that rural plan.”

Mr. Clyburn, though, said the Agriculture Department had for too long seemed “to favor big farming interests” over less wealthy people, whether they be “little farmers in Clarendon County, S.C., or food stamp recipients in Cleveland, Ohio,” Ms. Fudge’s hometown.

Mr. Clyburn did not mention Ms. Heitkamp, but he bridled at the prospect of Mr. Vilsack reclaiming the department he had led for all eight years of the Obama administration.

“I don’t know why we’ve got to be recycling,” Mr. Clyburn said, echoing complaints that Mr. Biden only represents Mr. Obama’s third term. “There’s a strong feeling that Black farmers didn’t get a fair shake” under Mr. Vilsack, Mr. Clyburn said.

Mr. Vilsack did not respond in kind. He said he had “all the respect in the world for Representative Clyburn” and that he had learned from him.

The far-left wants to use the Department of Agriculture to promote progressive policies on everything from climate change and greenhouse gas emissions to making agriculture more ‘socially just’. More than 150 far-left groups have come together to oppose Heitkamp.

In stark contrast, Heitkamp’s legislative record is so troubling that more than 150 groups across the nation have signed a letter urging Biden to withdraw her name from consideration: “Heitkamp is the wrong choice for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) because she has aligned herself with corporate agribusiness against small farmers, supports fossil fuel interests and holds conservative views that are out of step with the Democratic Party and the majority of Americans.”

We cannot afford an old-school agriculture secretary who maintains today’s disastrous status quo when the job calls for a bold change agent. Industrial farming generates at least 10 percent (likely more) of this country’s greenhouse gas emissions, while degrading our air, water and soil resources. We need a leader who’s serious about making our food system more sustainable and resilient. The next agriculture secretary must also create real economic opportunities for small and mid-scale farmers and rural communities that have been decimated by increasing corporate concentration and control over the food system.

Heitkamp voted with Republicans to block a carbon tax bill in 2013 and helped lead an effort to lift a 40-year ban on U.S. oil exports. She took campaign donations from fossil fuel companies. Clearly, she must be denied this cabinet position, if the far left has anything to say about it. Progressive groups tout Fudge as “a champion who has a record of taking on powerful interests in the name of ecological sustainability and social equity.”

Biden’s laudable goals deserve a champion who has a record of taking on powerful interests in the name of ecological sustainability and social equity. Instead of Heitkamp, who has no record of fighting for these values, Fudge coauthored the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act, “to protect worker, food, and animal safety at meatpacking plants during the COVID-19 pandemic.” While Fudge has strongly defended food stamps and nutrition aid for the poor, Heitkamp voted in 2013 to kill an amendment to protect these funds by reining in corporate crop insurance subsidies. And as Politico reported, Fudge has been a strong proponent of boosting USDA’s conservation programs, leading a push during the 2018 farm bill to protect water quality from agricultural runoff and improve soil health.” Her strong environmental record has earned her a 93 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

Also of great importance to Fudge’s far-left supporters, she would be the first African-American Secretary of Agriculture. Above all else, Biden has made promises to minority communities and they are cashing in on that. The party of identity politics is beholden to these activists. Fudge’s nomination would be a two-fer – an African-American woman. So far, Biden has made a point of noting his cabinet choices as historical firsts in their positions, if they are confirmed. This choice will likely fall into that category.

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