Nebraska senator: Vilsack a shoo-in as ag chief
WASHINGTON -- Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack appears to be on a smooth path to be-coming the next U.S. agriculture secretary. Vilsack, tapped by President-elect Barack Obama for the post, met Thursday with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., in the senator's ...
WASHINGTON -- Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack appears to be on a smooth path to be-coming the next U.S. agriculture secretary.
Vilsack, tapped by President-elect Barack Obama for the post, met Thursday with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., in the senator's Capitol Hill office. Vilsack has been meeting with key sena-tors ahead of his confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Nelson, a member of that committee, said he anticipates supporting Vilsack's nomination and predicted a smooth confirmation process.
The two men talked about last year's farm bill, conservation issues and challenges to U.S. agricultural exports, Nelson said.
Nelson took the opportunity to urge more funding for a microenterprise program that he proposed. Nelson said Vilsack will face plenty of questions on a range of subjects at the confirmation hearing, but that he's up to the task.
"He has enough experience and knowledge that he'll be able to answer all the questions and satisfy the questioners," Nelson said.
All of this assumes that Vilsack is still interested in running the USDA.
The New York Daily News reported this week that Obama's team was considering shifting Vilsack to the commerce secretary position. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson recently withdrew from consideration for the commerce job.
As typical for a Cabinet nominee, Vilsack declined to answer questions from reporters af-ter his meeting with Nelson. Instead he hustled off to his next appointment.
Nelson said the commerce secretary rumors never came up during his conversation with Vilsack.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, threw cold wa-ter on the idea of Vilsack switching jobs.
Harkin said he has heard nothing about it from Vilsack or anyone with the incoming ad-ministration.
"No one's approached me on it," Harkin said. "I think it's highly unlikely."
Harkin pushed for Vilsack's nomination from the start. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, also has praised Vilsack's selection.
Another fan of Vilsack is newly elected Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., who served as agricul-ture secretary for more than two years under President George W. Bush.
Johanns is hoping to receive a spot on the Agriculture Committee, but those assignments have been held up by uncertainty over the Minnesota Senate seat. Johanns said he would like to sit in on Vilsack's confirmation hearing.
Unlike some past secretaries, Vilsack did not grow up in a farming family. But Harkin said that the job is largely an executive position and that Vilsack showed himself to be an adept administrator.
Harkin said Vilsack spent many years living in small-town America.
"He has a keen sensitivity to the rural issues that confront us in agriculture," Harkin said.