The United States Senate has voted to confirm two more of Joe Biden’s cabinet nominees, as the US president seeks to fill vacant positions in his administration and pursue his top policy priorities, including tackling the COVID-19 crisis.
Congresswoman Marcia Fudge was confirmed as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), giving Biden another cabinet member focused strongly on reducing economic inequalities.
US Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland will serve as US attorney general and take over the US Justice Department, the top federal law enforcement agency responsible for protecting civil rights.
The Senate voted 66-34 in favour of Fudge’s nomination, with all Democrats and independents as well as 16 Republicans voting in favour.
Garland, who had been blocked in 2016 from becoming a US Supreme Court justice, was confirmed in a 70-30 vote.
Democrats have praised Garland, 68, as a highly qualified and honourable jurist who is uniquely qualified to lead the Justice Department after a tumultuous four years under former President Donald Trump.
During her confirmation hearing, Fudge, 68, had called for more housing aid to help tens of millions of people who are behind on rent and three million homeowners currently in forbearance or delinquent on their mortgages due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Shortly after she was confirmed – and minutes before she resigned her position in Congress – Fudge took her last vote in the House in support of Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which would provide billions in housing assistance to low-income households.
The bill includes $45bn to help struggling Americans pay rent, mortgages and utilities and place homeless people in housing. The government estimates that 12 million people owe an average of $5,800 in back rent and utilities.
“My first priority as secretary would be to alleviate that crisis and get people the support they need to come back from the edge,” Fudge told the Senate Finance Committee.
As HUD secretary, she would be responsible for distributing much of the COVID-19 housing aid.
To build back better, we first need to create a base – to build a foundation for those struggling with housing.
That means ensuring people keep their homes during a pandemic, and keeping people off the streets. Then we can start enacting programs that make life better. pic.twitter.com/LFWVmP15KF
— Marcia L. Fudge (@mlfudge) December 22, 2020
Republican Senator Pat Toomey criticised some of Fudge’s past comments about Republicans, saying they could have a “toxic and detrimental impact on the working relationship that ought to be a constructive relationship” between Congress and the Biden administration.
Fudge last year had said Republicans bent on replacing late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the November presidential election “are a disgrace to this nation”.
Fudge acknowledged she was not always “pitch-perfect” but pledged to work with Republicans as HUD secretary.
The Senate also confirmed Michael Regan to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday evening after his nomination cleared a procedural vote earlier in the day.
Regan, who has served as North Carolina’s top environmental regulator since 2017, will help lead Biden’s efforts to address climate change and advocate for environmental justice, two of the administration’s top priorities. He is the first Black man to run the EPA.