WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden has selected 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.
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 on Tuesday 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.
Biden sees Fudge as a leading voice for working families and a longtime champion of affordable housing, infrastructure and other priorities, according to one of the people familiar with the president-elect’s decision. 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, the person said.
As news outlets started reporting Fudge’s selection as HUD secretary, she said on Capitol Hill that it would be “an honor and a privilege” to be asked to join Biden’s Cabinet, though she didn’t confirm she had been picked.
“It is something in probably my wildest dreams I would have never thought about. So if I can help this president in any way possible, I am more than happy to do it,” she said Tuesday evening.
A longtime member of the House Agriculture Committee and a fierce advocate for food stamps, Fudge was originally discussed to become agriculture secretary. South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat who gave Biden a key nod of support in the primaries, had strongly backed her, saying, “It’s one thing to grow food, but another to dispense it, and nobody would be better at that than Marcia Fudge.″
She also had the strong backing of progressive groups who touted her support for food aid and worker protections at meatpacking plants.
But her name was later floated for HUD as Biden’s team focused on other candidates for USDA, including Vilsack and former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.
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,
Having run the giant department for eight years under Obama and sat at the table with Biden, there’s little mystery to Vilsack’s expertise. Their 34-year friendship and longtime professional connection make the choice one offering little risk.
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 was among the field. Vilsack was a finalist for Clinton’s running mate that year.
Biden has said he wants a diverse Cabinet, and some Black leaders have said he needs to do more to achieve that. Biden announced earlier Tuesday that he had selected retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to be the nation’s first Black defense secretary.
Clyburn aggressively pushed Fudge for USDA but seemed to suggest earlier Tuesday that she may be under consideration for another position.
“Marcia Fudge is a tremendous candidate. I was pitching her for the Department of Agriculture,” Clyburn said on CNN. “I don’t know if that’s where she will end up, but I feel certain that Marcia Fudge is the kind of person that should be in this Cabinet and I will continue to advocate for her.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in business from The Ohio State University and a law degree from the Cleveland-Marshall School of Law at Cleveland State University.
Politico first reported the news of Fudge’s selection, while Axios was first to report Vilsack as agriculture secretary.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.