Tom Vilsack Is a Little Worried That Trump Forgot the USDA Exists

“We’ve seen him like once, and that’s it,” he said of Trump’s USDA transition guy.

Are you there. Donald? It's me, Vilsack. <a href="">Carolyn Kaster</a>/AP Images

While writing this post about the chaos surrounding the US Department of Agriculture transition, I was tempted to title it, “What the hell is Trump getting up to at the USDA?” Apparently, outgoing USDA chief Tom Vilsack has the same question.

In its emailed morning news roundup for December 14—you can listen to the audio version here, starting at the 32 second mark—the trade journal Agri-Pulse reported on its recent exit interview with Vilsack. In it, he took a poke at the Trump transition team. The USDA chief expressed disappointment that Trump has yet to appoint his successor and complained that “we haven’t had much activity from the transition team,” even as his own staff has been developing materials to prep the new team for taking over the agency.

“I think we’ve had one person here for a few hours and then that person was told he couldn’t do the job,” Vilsack said, an apparent reference to Michael Torrey, the food industry lobbyist Trump tapped to lead the USDA transition a month ago. Torrey abruptly quit a week later after Trump announced a ban on lobbyists working in the transition.

“And then we had a second person and we’ve seen him like once, and that’s it,” Vilsack added. That would appear to be a reference to Joel Leftwich, who took over the role of USDA transition a few days after Torrey’s exit. In addition to his transition duties, Leftwich now works for the Senate Agriculture Committee, but he served as Pepsi’s top DC lobbyist from 2013 to 2015.

“It’s a little puzzling why, given the magnitude and the reach of this department, that people haven’t been more engaged, given the opportunity to learn,” Vilsack said.

Meanwhile, Trump isn’t close to deciding on who he’ll tap to take over from Vilsack, reports the trade journal Southeast Ag Net. Mounting speculation recently settled on Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) as the likely pick, but that crumbled Monday, with reports of dissension among Trump’s ag advisers and whispers that Heitkamp would decline the job anyway.


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.