Former Rep. Xochitl Torres Small has been confirmed by the Senate to become the Agriculture Department’s undersecretary for rural development.
The New Mexico Democrat who served one term in the House and briefly on the Agriculture Committee is President Joe Biden's second nominee for an undersecretary position at USDA to get Senate approval. Jenny Lester Moffitt was confirmed in August to serve as undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs.
The Senate confirmed Torres Small by unanimous consent Thursday night ahead of a weeklong recess.
“Torres Small will build on her legacy as a champion for small towns and rural communities — much like the one she grew up in New Mexico,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
The committee’s top Republican, John Boozman of Arkansas, said he wanted to work with Torres Small to “expand access to affordable high-speed broadband, ensure continued access to reliable energy production, improve water infrastructure, and create new economic opportunities in rural America.”
During her confirmation hearing in July, Torres Small was pressed repeatedly for her position on broadband issues, including what the eligibility standards should be for USDA funding. She insisted that she would follow whatever standards Congress sets.
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She assured the senators that USDA only partially uses the Federal Communications Commission's broadband maps in deciding where there are gaps in service. The maps have been heavily criticized as inaccurate. USDA has found other ways to identify areas in need, she said.
In announcing her nomination in June, the White House credited her with keeping open a rural hospital in her district, securing rural broadband funds through USDA’s ReConnect Program, and voicing the concerns of dairy farmers affected by implementation issues of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Before her election to the House, Torres Small was an aide to then-Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and a judicial law clerk for a federal judge.
Two USDA nominees are currently awaiting confirmation: Robert Bonnie, Biden's pick to head up the farm production and conservation mission area, and Homer Wilkes, the nominee for undersecretary of natural resources and environment.
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