The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Marcia Fudge to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Michael Regan to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, picking up the pace for confirmations in Joe Biden’s cabinet.
Fudge, a veteran lawmaker and congresswoman from Ohio, will lead the housing agency just as Congress has passed new benefits for renters and homeowners who have suffered economic losses amid the coronavirus pandemic. She is also the first Black woman to run the agency in decades.
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.
Fudge, who has represented parts of Cleveland and Akron in the House since 2008, is a former mayor and a longtime advocate for assistance for the needy. She said at her confirmation hearing in January that her first priority would be protecting the millions of people who have fallen behind on rent or mortgages due to loss of income during the pandemic, telling senators that “we cannot afford to allow people in the midst of a pandemic to be put in the streets”.
Shortly after she was confirmed, Fudge took the last vote of her House career in support of the $1.9tn Covid-19 relief bill, which will provide billions in housing assistance to low-income households.
The Senate also confirmed federal judge Merrick Garland as attorney general Wednesday. All three nominees won bipartisan support for their nominations.
Democrats argued that Fudge’s experience was right for the times. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who lives in Fudge’s district, noted that Ohio suffered a disproportionate number of foreclosures even before the 2008 economic crisis.
“She knows how for decades, communities have watched as factories closed, investment dried up and storefronts were boarded over,” Brown said. “And she knows how many neighborhoods and towns have never had the investment they should – because of discrimination, because of redlining, because of decades of policy that funneled resources and jobs away from Black and brown communities.”
The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said Fudge “has a difficult job ahead of her” as millions of American renters are behind on payments and millions of homeowners are in forbearance.
The Covid-19 relief bill provides about $30bn to help low-income households and the unemployed afford rent and utilities, and to assist the homeless with vouchers and other support. States and tribes would receive an additional $10bn for homeowners struggling with mortgage payments because of the pandemic.
Regan is known in his home state for pursuing cleanups of industrial toxins and helping low-income and minority communities significantly affected by pollution.
Senator Tom Carper, who is the chairman of the environment panel, said Regan has a proven record of forging “practical solutions to clean our air and our water, while building a more nurturing environment for job creation and job preservation”.
One of Regan’s biggest challenges will be returning scientific integrity to an agency that, under former president Donald Trump, frequently allowed business groups and other special interests to “play a large role in crafting the agency’s policies”, Carper said.
The confirmations were not without criticism from Republicans. West Virginia senator Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the environment panel, said Regan would return the EPA to the policy agenda of the Obama administration, an agenda she said “absolutely devastated…