Chuck Grassley

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley introduced former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack to members of the Senate Agriculture Committee in a hearing today on Vilsack’s nomination as U.S. Ag Secretary.

Grassley says he’s “heard nothing negative” from fellow Republicans about Democrat Vilsack, who served as the head of the U.S.D.A. during all eight years of the Obama administration. Still, Vilsack may not be a slam dunk.

Grassley says, “Some people that you’d call Democrats and liberals for some reason or other have raised some questions about Vilsack in regard to either his age or not being progressive enough or maybe something dealing with civil rights.” Vilsack has an outstanding civil rights record, Grassley says, and he plans to “speak up” on Vilsack’s behalf about the issue.

“That deals with some people that you’d call black farmers of America not getting fair treatment from past U.S.D.A.s,” Grassley says, “and I mean past going back to probably the 1990s and some lawsuits that were affecting that.” He notes Vilsack wasn’t ag secretary during those years, but later, from 2009 to 2017.

As far as age being an issue, Grassley — who’s 87 — says the 78-year-old President Joe Biden has picked Vilsack for this post based on his experience. Vilsack just turned 70 in December. “Somehow, there’s an association of being past 65 that you might not be as progressive as the wing of the Democrat party is,” Grassley says. “I don’t think it means he’s not capable of doing the job. He might not be thinking as left wing as a lot of people in the Democrat party think he should.”

Grassley didn’t specify who raised red flags about Vilsack, who’s served in multiple other posts over the decades as a Democrat, including in the Iowa Senate and as Mount Pleasant’s mayor.
“I don’t know who would question Governor Vilsack’s or any Iowan’s knowledge of agriculture,” Grassley says. “Let’s just leave it that way. I think he’s going to do a good job.”