WASHINGTON (CN) — Congresswoman Marcia Fudge was confirmed as secretary of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday afternoon, opening up her seat in a predominantly blue Ohio district that Democrats are sure to retain.
The Senate voted 66-34 to confirm President Biden’s nomination of Fudge a day after a vote to limit debate cleared procedural hurdles.
Fudge, 68, inherits a struggling agency that is facing the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression. She is the first Black woman to lead it in decades. In the last administration, former HUD Secretary Ben Carson was the only Black member of the Cabinet.
Housing and Urban Development was created in 1965 to help low-income Americans enter the housing market. It operates today with less than half the staff it had 30 years ago, and a budget down 15% from last year.
Speaking to the enormity of her task in her confirmation hearing, Fudge cited that only 1 in 5 eligible households receives housing assistance, 21 million Americans currently pay more than 30% of their income on housing, and 1 in 5 renters and 1 in 10 homeowners are behind on their housing payments.
Fudge has called on lawmakers to dramatically increase funding for housing programs, past the $25 billion in emergency rental assistance recently approved in the new Covid relief package — a sticking point for some Republicans.
Critics say that the Ohio congresswoman doesn’t have enough experience to take on the role of tackling homelessness, millions of people facing eviction and soaring housing prices. But Fudge, who initially was lobbying to be secretary of agriculture, convinced enough Republicans that her years spent being a mayor in a small town outside of Cleveland, representing one of Ohio’s majority-minority districts, and advocating for fair labor practices and human rights have prepared her for the role.
“HUD — perhaps more than any other department — exists to serve the most vulnerable people in America,” Fudge testified in January before the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. “That mandate matters a great deal to me. It is consistent with my own values, and it is precisely what has always motivated me to service.”
The committee voted 17-7 to approve the nomination, with nearly half of the Republicans voting against Fudge. Some, including Senator Patrick Toomey, the top Republican on the committee, expressed concern that Fudge is too partisan. Toomey quoted Fudge as having said last year that Republicans do not care "even a little bit" about people of color, and that the lawmakers who rushed to fill Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat were "a disgrace to the nation" and had “no decency,” “no honor” and "no integrity.”
"They raise questions about your willingness and ability to work with Republicans, if this is your opinion of Republicans," Toomey said.
Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas said during her confirmation hearing that Fudge has a long history of “intemperate comments.”
Fudge insists, however, that she is able to work across the aisle.
“I listen to my constituents and sometimes I am passionate about things,” Fudge said in response to the comments. “Is my tone pitch-perfect all of the time? It is not. I know this.”
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