President-elect Joe BidenJoe Biden46 percent of voters say Trump should concede immediately: poll Michigan county reverses course, votes unanimously to certify election results GOP senator: Trump shouldn’t fire top cybersecurity official MORE is eyeing the departments of Agriculture and Transportation as key partners for achieving his climate goals, exciting progressives by broadening efforts beyond traditional environmental agencies.
Biden’s climate plan calls for harnessing the power of agriculture to capture and store carbon while innovating to reduce its own footprint. In the transportation sector, he’s called for a massive investment in transit and elective vehicle infrastructure to reduce reliance on gas-powered vehicles.
But some of Biden’s potential picks are already generating concern from left-leaning interest groups, particularly those that want the incoming administration to surpass former President Obama’s accomplishments by using the full force of the federal government to tackle climate change.
Among those considered to lead the Department of Agriculture (USDA) are former Sen. Heidi Keitkamp (D-N.D.) and Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeFive actions Biden should take to build a more humane food system Race for House ag chair heats up OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Republicans in campaign mode for top spots on House environmental committees | Peterson loss prompts scramble for House Agriculture chair MORE (D-Ohio.).
Fudge has been openly campaigning for the job, telling Politico earlier this month that she’s been “very, very loyal to the ticket” and encouraging the Biden administration to place Black leaders in roles beyond traditional posts like Housing and Urban Development secretary.
Heitkamp has been more circumspect but didn’t rule out interest. After losing reelection in 2018 after only one term, she formed the One Country Fund, a political action committee that seeks to bolster Democratic prospects in rural America, an area where Democrats have struggled to make inroads.
“Joe Biden has the opportunity to put together a Cabinet that reflects all parts of America, and I know what decision he makes is going to be the right one,” Heitkamp told The Hill.
“We all have to make America unified to work again, so I’m very, very excited about Joe Biden as our next president of the United States and for Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisOn The Money: Trump’s controversial Fed nominee stalled | Economists warn of lag time between vaccine and recovery | Business group calls for national mask mandate, COVID-19 relief Biden, Harris briefed by national security experts amid transition obstacles Graham becomes center of Georgia storm MORE as our next vice president.”
Heitkamp’s government record before coming to Congress included defending North Dakota’s anti-corporate agriculture law as state attorney general in the 1990s. In Washington, she served on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
But her potential nomination for Agriculture secretary is already facing resistance from a host of left-leaning environmental and farmworker groups, hitting the former senator for her moderate voting record, acceptance of campaign contributions from large agribusiness and her overall environmental record.
More than 130 groups, including Friends of the Earth and Farmworker Justice, sent a letter to the Biden transition team urging them to avoid selecting Heitkamp due to her acceptance of donations from fossil fuel companies and her support for President TrumpDonald John Trump46 percent of voters say Trump should concede immediately: poll Michigan county reverses course, votes unanimously to certify election results GOP senator: Trump shouldn’t fire top cybersecurity official MORE’s first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats look to sharpen message after Senate setback The Memo: Divided Democrats search for common ground Biden could lose Georgia Senate races all by himself MORE (W.Va.) was the only other Democrat to support Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittDemocratic lawmaker calls for DOJ investigation of entire Trump administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump races clock on remaining environmental rollbacks | New Interior order undermines conservation bill Trump campaigned on, critics say | Trump administration to further advance lease sales at Arctic refuge: report Trump races clock on remaining environmental rollbacks MORE when he was nominated.
“Heitkamp’s history of receiving generous corporate donations coupled with her voting record is a strong indication that she would prioritize the interests of corporate agribusiness giants over the needs of family farmers,” the groups wrote, saying she should not be responsible for “leading an agency that is crucial to President-elect Biden’s bold plan to fight climate change.”
“We urge the administration to select one of the many other highly qualified candidates –– including several women candidates and candidates of color –– without ties to agribusiness and fossil fuels,” they added.
Some of the signatories, like Food and Water Watch, have more directly thrown their support behind Fudge and are working on circulating another letter to boost her candidacy.
Fudge, who did not respond to request for comment, is one of the higher-ranking Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee. She hails from a more urban district but would come to the job with a record of fighting against Trump’s rollbacks to food assistance programs.
“We need to start to look outside of the box and, as they have promised, a cabinet that is representative of this country as well as representative of the people who have supported them,” Fudge told Politico last week. “I think it’s a natural fit.”
In addition to left-learning groups, Fudge also appears to have support from the agriculture industry.
“She’s stood up for food stamps and nutrition issues and had a pretty ultimately successful fight or push with USDA on overturning some of eligibility and benefits rules. And she’s been a steadfast defender on a lot of nutrition topics, so I think that’s elevated her status in the running,” an agricultural lobbyist told The Hill.
Heitkamp, who is largely seen as the frontrunner, also has support from major farm groups. Even with early opposition from progressives, she could face a smoother confirmation process by relying on votes from her former colleagues in the Senate.
“Heidi is universally regarded for being a very smart, personable individual. And of course she knows agriculture and knows it very well and served on Ag committee. And so as [Biden] looks at having a Cabinet that reflects the country, she would certainly reflect the heart of production agriculture,” said Earl Pomeroy, a former North Dakota lawmaker and longtime colleague of Heitkamp’s in state government.
“She’s certainly shown she’s got policy chops at the serious national leadership levels. She knows ag, she has an established record on support for nutrition programs and can get confirmed. That makes her a compelling candidate,” he added.
At the Transportation Department, Biden’s list of potential nominees is likely to include Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerRestaurants brace for long COVID-19 winter Ahead of a coronavirus vaccine, Mexico’s drug pricing to have far-reaching impacts on Americans Trump threatens to double down on Portland in other major cities MORE (D-Ore.) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric GarcettiEric GarcettiCalifornia becomes second state to reach 1M COVID-19 cases Trump administration rejects California request for wildfire disaster assistance Newsom’s EV executive order will help make California breathable again MORE (D).
Unions have already been vocal about their opposition to any pick that may seek to reduce the workforce as a way to cut costs for transportation systems — something they worry could be portrayed as a necessity in switching to greener technology.
“The human element of this question is always the most important thing to us and advancement of environmental goals can be done in way that doesn’t tremendously negatively impact workers,” said John Samuelson, international president of the Transport Workers Union, adding that green goals could be used as cover by some transit authorities or companies to “advance profit making.”
Garcetti, who has backed free transit in Los Angeles, did not respond to a request for comment, while Blumenauer didn’t rule out interest in the Cabinet post.
“My goal is to help move transportation priorities through Congress and to be helpful to this new administration in any way I can. That’s what I’m focusing on right now,” he said in a statement.
Blumenauer, a regular bike commuter, is co-chair of the Congressional Bike Caucus.
Whoever takes over the top spot will be under pressure to transform an agency that has largely overseen highway construction in recent decades.
“We don’t need someone to be steward over a 1950s program for the next four to six years,” said Beth Osborne, director of Transport for America, which encourages increased funding for transit.
“We need to update the program to address the issues of today.”