A fight is breaking out among Democrats over who President-elect Joe Biden should choose for agriculture secretary, with one of his key allies advocating for an African American lawmaker to head the department and refocus it on hunger rather than rural America.
South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn has pushed Biden to tap Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Democrat, to fill the position, lobbying for her with two of the president-elect’s closest advisers, according to The New York Times. Clyburn has also discussed the matter with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I feel very strongly,” Clyburn told the Times. “It’s time for Democrats to treat the Department of Agriculture as the kind of department it purports to be.”
Fudge leads the nutrition and oversight panel on the House Agriculture Committee.
But the matter is complicated, as two of Biden’s allies — Heidi Heitkamp, a former North Dakota senator, and Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who served as agriculture secretary for President Barack Obama — are also being considered for the job.
The South Carolina Democrat maintained the Agriculture Department has 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,” Fudge’s hometown.
“I’m sick and tired of people saying that rural America is only Nebraska and Iowa,” Clyburn told The New York Post. “Rural America is South Carolina, it’s Mississippi, it’s Alabama. It’s Georgia. It was Black rural voters who helped Biden carry Georgia in the general election.”
Clyburn also pushed back against the idea that Biden may pick Vilsack, echoing complaints that the former vice president will represent a third Obama administration.
“I don’t know why we’ve got to be recycling,” Clyburn told the Times. “There’s a strong feeling that Black farmers didn’t get a fair shake” under Vilsack.
Some Democrats have warned that if Biden does not select Fudge to fill the position, it would be an insult to Clyburn, who is credited with helping Biden turn around his campaign and clinch the Democratic nomination after endorsing him before the South Carolina primary.
“Biden owes his presidency to Clyburn, and Clyburn is going all in for Fudge. Publicly,” tweeted Ady Barkan, an activist who started the Be a Hero PAC. “It would be a huge slap if he picked Heitkamp at this point.”
Heitkamp, however, demurred.
“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,” she told the Times. She predicted that Biden would “pick the person who can implement that rural plan,” referring to her campaign efforts on behalf of his “great rural plan.”