Black Democrats are unhappy former Vice President Joe Biden snubbed Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) for the position of Agriculture Secretary, instead choosing her for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) lobbied Biden to pick Fudge to head the Department of Agriculture, to better serve minority communities in the United States. Fudge is a former prosecutor and mayor and sits on the Agriculture Committee.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), head of the CBC, said on December 3: “Our Marcia Fudge should definitely be in that spot. … We are being very proactive and are definitely behind Marcia Fudge for Secretary of Agriculture.”
On Tuesday, a reporter asked Chair of the Democratic Caucus Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) if it was important that an African American is chosen to lead the Agriculture Department.
“It’s important to me that Joe Biden’s cabinet reflect the great diversity and gorgeous mosaic of the American people. Marcia Fudge would be a tremendous secretary of Agriculture,” he responded.
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) — who is often credited for saving Biden’s flailing primary campaign — also told CNN that day he wanted Fudge for the USDA.
However, a day later, Biden appointed Tom Vilsack, a close friend who served as the Agriculture secretary for eight years during the Obama administration.
Several news outlets said the appointment of Fudge to HUD was perceived as a “consolation prize” while others simply queried it outright:
Democrats sure got it good. https://t.co/kvjMMo2IiF
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) December 9, 2020
Axios reported Thursday: “Black Democrats are upset Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) was passed over for Agriculture and tapped for what some perceive as a token African American slot: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.” Axios also reported that the CBC “now faces the prospect of a white man or woman heading the Justice Department.”
Common Dreams, a progressive news organization, reported Varshini Prakash, executive director of progressive group Sunrise Movement, called Fudge being sidestepped to head the USDA “frustrating.”
“While we believe Rep. Fudge can excel at any leadership position, we share the confusion of many about this move and are left to believe this choice stems from shallow racial stereotypes about the office,” Prakash said.
The article noted that Fudge would have been the first black woman to serve as agriculture secretary, but if confirmed would be the second black woman to serve as HUD secretary.
The Intercept’s Vanessa Bee penned an article titled: “Why Is Marcia Fudge Being Nominated to HUD, if Not Tokenism?”
Guardian columnist Malaika Jabali slammed Biden’s appointment of Vilsack over Fudge in a tweet:
Black folks, we need another electoral strategy. Seriously, why bother electing people who mostly offer lip service to our communities or look like us and then defend their every misdeed? Who does that serve? https://t.co/BeRvDCW7nl
— Malaika Jabali (@MalaikaJabali) December 11, 2020
Black community leaders had warned Biden not to appoint Vilsack to head the USDA again, particularly given his history.
The Intercept on Thursday night obtained and leaked a conference call with Biden and black community leaders where National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Derrick Johnson warned Biden that appointing Vilsack as the head of USDA would anger black farmers and black voters in Georgia, where two critical Senate races are ongoing.
In a controversial move as agriculture secretary in 2010, Vilsack fired Shirley Sherrod, then the Georgia state director of rural development for the USDA and considered a black civil rights hero. She was fired after Breitbart News founder Andrew Breitbart released a video of a speech where she made racially-charged comments about helping a white farmer.
Although Vilsack later apologized and asked Sherrod to come back, she declined.
Johnson told Biden: “If you consider the victory that you appreciated in Georgia, it was around 12,000 votes. And so as you consider appointments, you also must consider what impact would that have on voters in the state of Georgia. And I will submit to you that former Secretary Vilsack could have a disastrous impact on voters in Georgia.”
Perhaps in acknowledgement of black Democrats’ concerns, Vilsack during a Biden transition livestream event on Friday spoke of “embracing” a “diverse and inclusive” senior leadership team at the department, and to “continue the work of rooting out inequities in the systems we govern and the programs we lead.”
Fudge did not betray any disappointment during her speech after Vilsack’s, pledging to “stand up for the dignity of all Americans and deliver the promise of our nation to all those left out in the cold.”
However, after that speech, when asked by a local news reporter about her expressed desire to be the agriculture secretary and the HUD position being something they gave to African Americans, she responded, “Well, I do feel that more African Americans have run HUD than Ag. There’s no question about it.”
But she insisted that the HUD appointment was not a “consolation prize.”
“No Cabinet position can be a consolation prize. What I was doing at the time was trying to say that it’s OK to think outside of the box. It’s OK to think about a person from an urban core to be secretary of agriculture,” she said, according to Cleveland.com.
“I was just really trying to make a comparison. But I am more than honored and pleased and humbled to be asked to be in the Cabinet of a president that I think is going to make such significant change. And mind you, I can help poor people as much at HUD as I could at Ag,” she said.