WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden made two key domestic policy picks Tuesday, selecting former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reprise that role along with Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge as his housing and urban development secretary 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.
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.
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, according to those briefed on the decision.
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.
Politico first reported the news of Fudge’s selection, while Axios was first to report Vilsack as agriculture secretary.
Lemire reported from Wilmington, Del. Associated Press writers Alan Fram in Washington, Kat Stafford in Detroit, Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and Michael Casey in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.