Tom Vilsack faces new challenges as he returns to old job

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FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2020 file photo, former ecretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaks at a campaign stop for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at the LOFT on Jefferson, in Burlington, Iowa. President-elect Joe Biden has selected Vilsack to reprise that role in his administration. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON – Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has spent years, if not decades, telling his fellow Democrats they needed to do more to aid rural communities and reach out to them. But he has often lamented that no one listened.

Now, he’s going to try again.

President-elect Joe Biden nominated Vilsack, a former Iowa governor and Democratic presidential candidate, to return to his old job at the Agriculture Department, saying his eight years of experience there under former President Barack Obama would ensure quicker help to rural and poor areas that are “reeling” from the pandemic and economic downturn.

“He wasn’t anxious to come back, he wasn’t looking for this job, but I was persistent and I asked him to serve again in this role because he knows the USDA inside and out, he knows the government inside and out,” Biden said of Vilsack, who turns 70 this weekend, as he introduced him and other members of his future Cabinet on Friday. “We need that experience now.”

Reaction to his appointment was mixed.

Farm and anti-hunger groups that had a good relationship with Vilsack appeared pleased. Vilsack “has the necessary qualifications and experience to steer the agency through these turbulent times,” said Rob Larew, the president of the National Farmers Union.

But progressive groups that had pushed Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge expressed frustration.

Fudge has fiercely pushed to expand food aid in her long tenure on the House Agriculture Committee and would have been the first Black woman to lead the agency, which has a troubled history of discriminating against Black farmers.