KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — In a welcome move for the agricultural and food sectors, President-elect Joe Biden announced late last week the nomination of Tom Vilsack as his Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack served in the role throughout the administration of former President Barack Obama, and if confirmed by the Senate, he would hold the distinction as the first agriculture secretary with a hiatus between the administrations under which he served. It should be noted he would not be the first secretary of agriculture to serve under multiple presidents. James Wilson held the post under three presidents — McKinley, Roosevelt and Taft — and holds the record for the longest term of any cabinet member (1887 to 1913).
In the hyper-partisan Washington atmosphere, Biden was wise to have resisted pressure to nominate an agriculture secretary championed by the progressive wing of his party. Several members of the cabinet of President Trump were lightning rods for controversy, either during the nominating process (including Betsy DeVos and Ben Carson) or during their terms (including Mike Pompeo and Bill Barr). The same may not be said for Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who rarely drew criticism even as the administration grappled with a struggling farm economy amid the US-China trade war.
Announcing the nomination, Biden said Vilsack, who was unanimously confirmed in 2008, would be “ready to get to work on day one.” While clashes between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-controlled White House invariably will arise in 2021, it appears comity over agricultural policy in the administration may be within reach between the parties.