Sanders First Democrat to Vote Against Biden Cabinet Nominee

Tom Vilsack won an overwhelming affirmative vote to become Minister of Agriculture a second time, which is probably why Bernie Sanders felt free to oppose him.
Photo: Getty Images

Despite fears that an evenly divided Senate would cause trouble for Joe Biden’s cabinet candidates, of the nine whose confirmations reached the Senate, eight received at least 78 votes (all but Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who received 56). The youngest, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with an impressive 92-7 votes (not surprisingly after receiving unanimous approval from the Senate Agriculture Committee). But the Vilsack vote showed the first tiny crack in the solid building of democratic unity when Bernie Sanders, along with six right-wing Republicans, spoke out against the affirmation. It was the first Democratic vote against a Biden candidate (although Joe Manchin has announced that he would vote against OMB candidate Neera Tanden if she gets that far).

To be clear, Sanders hardly used lightning bolts at Vilsack. “I like Tom and I’ve known him for years,” he told reporters after the vote. “I think we need someone a little more energetic to protect family farms and take over corporate farming. I think he will be fine, but not as strong as I would like. “

It seems that precisely because Vilsack’s confirmation was not in doubt, Sanders felt justified in reminding the former USDA secretary to watch out for his Ps and Qs after he heard the early progressive calamity over his links with Big Ag and his alleged one Disinterest in the plight of the black farmers. Both Biden and Vilsack likely deserve credit for reassuring Democrats who were disappointed when Ohio Representative Marcia Fudge was turned over to the USDA. (She was nominated for HUD secretary instead.) In general, evidence of Team Biden’s political prowess is that potential left-wing and diversity-based protests against various nominees have not yet taken place. With the exception of Tanden, no nominee appears to be in big trouble. The other potential target of progressive rebels, trade minister-designate Gina Raimondo, won approval 21-3 on the trade committee, with all Democrats backing her.

In the early days of the Obama administration, three cabinet nominations (Tom Daschle for HHS and Bill Richardson and Judd Gregg for Commerce) had to be withdrawn, and Treasury Department candidate Timothy Geithner was turned down by four Democratic senators (including Sanders). Bill Clinton had tremendous trouble getting an attorney general and had a total of five withdrawn nominations.

Perhaps Biden or the Democrats learned the right lessons.

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