WASHINGTON – The Senate on Tuesday confirmed President Joe Biden’s choice to lead US diplomacy at the United Nations.
The vote for Linda Thomas-Greenfield reflected a wedge between the Biden administration’s determination to re-engage with the global body and the diplomacy of former President Donald Trump that has often left the United States internationally isolated.
Senators voted 78-20 to confirm Thomas-Greenfield for the position, which will be a Cabinet-level position.
The Senate also voted 92-7 on Tuesday to confirm Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture, his second cabinet run. The former governor of Iowa spent eight years as head of the same department for the entire administration of former President Barack Obama.
Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year retired foreign service veteran who resigned under the Trump administration, will be the third African-American woman and the second African-American woman to hold the post.
Many Republicans opposed her because they said she was lenient on China and would not stand up for American principles at the United Nations. Thomas-Greenfield dismissed those concerns during her confirmation hearing, telling senators that a speech she gave in 2019 to the China-funded Confucius Institute was a mistake and was not intended to be a approval of Chinese government policies.
In her speech, she praised China’s $ 1 trillion global Belt and Road infrastructure program in Africa and called for “a win-win-win situation” where the United States and China promote good governance. and the rule of law.
She told senators that China is a strategic adversary and that “their actions threaten our security, they threaten our values and they threaten our way of life, they pose a threat to their neighbors and they pose a threat to the world.” .
Thomas-Greenfield spoke of China’s diplomatic forays during the Trump administration, which pursued an “America first” policy that weakened international alliances. And she made it clear that there would be a change under Biden to re-engage internationally and promote American values.
She stressed that American leadership must be rooted in the country’s core values - “support for democracy, respect for universal human rights and the promotion of peace and security”. And, she said, effective diplomacy means developing “strong relationships”, finding common ground and dealing with differences, and “doing authentic and old-fashioned interpersonal diplomacy.”
During her hearing, she recalled going to a separate high school and then to Louisiana State University “following a trial”. She said she was “not the norm” among Ivy League graduates who also joined the foreign service in 1982.
“And yet, I have had an extraordinary 35-year career, which culminated as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “To me, this represents America’s progress and promise.
In his testimony, Vilsack, 70, strongly endorsed stimulating climate-friendly agricultural industries such as the creation of biofuels, saying that “Agriculture is one of our first and best ways to win” on climate change. .
He proposed to “build a rural economy based on bioproduction” and “transform agricultural waste into a variety of products”. He pledged to work closely with the Environmental Protection Agency to “boost the industry” of biofuels.
With systemic racial inequality now a topic of discussion nationwide, Vilsack also considered creating an “equity task force” within the department. His job, he said, would be to identify what he called “intentional or unintentional barriers” that prevent or discourage farmers of color from properly accessing federal aid programs.
Vilsack also strongly supported the SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – commonly known as Food Stamps – as a key instrument to help the country’s most vulnerable families survive and recover from the pandemic era. . His Trump-era predecessor, Sonny Perdue, had sought to purge hundreds of thousands of people from SNAP recipient lists.
He faced minimal opposition throughout the confirmation process.