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Senate confirms Vilsack to lead USDA, Thomas-Greenfield as U.N. ambassador

Feb. 23 (UPI) — The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Tom Vilsack to head the Agriculture Department and Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The upper chamber gave broad bipartisan support to Vilsack’s second stint as USDA secretary, voting 92-7 to approve him. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., broke from Democrats and voted against the confirmation.

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Vilsack, 70, served in the same position on former President Barack Obama‘s Cabinet and is a former governor of Iowa. He’ll be taking over the department amid pandemic-related food shortages and as farmers struggle with the effects of trade wars under the Trump administration.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us to contain the pandemic, transform America’s food system, create fairer markets for producers, ensure equity and root out systemic barriers, develop new income opportunities with climate smart practices, increase access to healthy and nutritious food, and make historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy in rural America,” Vilsack said in a statement.

Senate members voted 78-20 to confirm the nomination of Thomas-Greenfield, 68, of Louisiana, to serve as U.S. representative to the United Nations, with the status of the ambassador and U.S. representative of the U.N. Security Council, the roll call shows.

“America is back,” the veteran diplomat said when Biden announced her nomination for the post in November. “Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back.”

Thomas-Greenfield said during her confirmation hearing before the Senate foreign relations committee that she spent more than half of her career working on refugee and humanitarian issues, and it will be one of her many priorities at the United Nations.

She also said she plans to watch China to keep Beijing from using the global body to achieve any authoritarian goals.

Thomas-Greenfield was also asked during the confirmation hearing about equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines regardless of wealth, and she said that she planned to address it in a global way.

“We certainly have to re-engage with our allies,” Thomas-Greenfield said at the hearing. “One of the biggest failings of the Trump administration is that they did try to go it alone, and our allies were left kind of holding the bag.”

She joined the foreign service in 1982 and has worked more than three decades in the State Department, serving in diplomatic posts from Kenya to Pakistan. She also served as U.S. ambassador to Liberia under former Presidents George W. Bush and Obama between 2008 and 2012.

From 2013-2017, she served as the top U.S. diplomat for African affairs and helped oversee response to the Ebola epidemic.

“Linda Thomas-Greenfield has dedicated her career to improving the United States relations on the world stage,” Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. said in a statement after meeting with her in December. “Hailing from Baker, Louisiana, she will represent our nation well as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.”

In a statement after the meeting, Thomas-Greenfield thanked Cassidy for meeting with her.

“I’ve always honored my Louisiana roots, no matter where I serve in the world, by adding a Cajun spin — something I call Gumbo diplomacy — and engaging with people in the spirit of building trust and finding common ground,” she added. “I hope to bring that same style of diplomacy to the United Nations.”

Thomas-Greenfield has spoken in the past about growing up in the segregated South and how those experiences shaped her diplomatically.

“Like my mentors, role models and predecessors, I strongly believe diplomacy is an irreplaceable tool in the work of advancing American interests and building a better world.”

The Senate is also on track to confirm Wally Adeyemo as the first Black deputy treasury secretary, having received bipartisan support at the Senate finance committee hearing, The Hill reported.

Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called Adeyemo, “an ideal choice.”

Ranking Member Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, noted his extensive experience, including private sector work, his years at the treasury and the National Economic Council, and his work representing U.S. economic interests in trade negotiations.

If confirmed, Adeyemo would serve under Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, confirmed in late January as the first woman to serve in the role.

Adeyemo addressed at his Senate hearing issues ranging from trade, to sanctions, to China, to climate and racial inequality, with a focus on strong multilateral approaches.

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