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Senate Agriculture backs Torres Small to take deputy position at Agriculture Department

Panel gives unanimous backing to one-term representative

Xochitl Torres Small, who served one term in the House before becoming a USDA undersecretary, received unanimous Senate Agriculture backing Wednesday to become deputy secretary.
Xochitl Torres Small, who served one term in the House before becoming a USDA undersecretary, received unanimous Senate Agriculture backing Wednesday to become deputy secretary. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Senate committee voted unanimously Wednesday to send the nomination of former Rep. Xochitl Torres Small for Agriculture deputy secretary to the full Senate.

Torres Small, who is currently undersecretary for rural development, won bipartisan support in a 23-0 roll call vote by the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee off the Senate floor.

Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark., called Torres Small a well-qualified candidate for the No. 2 job at USDA. They didn’t say when the Senate would vote on the nomination.

The panel’s vote comes a week after Torres Small testified at her nomination hearing. President Joe Biden nominated her after Jewel Bronaugh left the deputy secretary job in February.

Torres Small told the committee she would be “part manager and part departmental ambassador” in the job. As deputy secretary, she would be the chief operating officer responsible for strategic planning for a department that operates 29 agencies and offices and employs about 100,000 people who largely work outside the Beltway.

“If confirmed as deputy secretary, I would want to focus on being that customer service agency that our farmers and rural people rely on and all of the backend work that supports that effort,” she said at the May 10 hearing.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat who called Torres Small a friend, said at the hearing that her passion for and focus on rural communities in the state had earned her widespread respect.

Even committee members critical of the USDA were reluctant to blame Torres for their dissatisfaction. Questions about the department’s use of pandemic funds, the efficiency of rural development efforts and the shortage of USDA workers in the field to deliver programs and services didn’t cause any opposition.

“I’ve been on this committee for 14 years, and I feel like things have not gotten better,” Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said about the time it took for a Colorado county to get a USDA community facilities grant.

Torres Small, a Democrat and water rights lawyer before she won a seat in the 116th Congress in 2018, grew up in southwestern New Mexico and represented a mostly rural district. She once served as a field representative for then-Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. She lost her race for reelection.

The Senate confirmed her to her current position Oct. 8, 2021. In her nomination hearing for the undersecretary role, Torres Small told senators that she knew rural America well, having driven “a lot of dirt roads” in a district that she said is the fifth-largest congressional district in terms of size.

She is the daughter of educators and the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who were farmworkers. She graduated from Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa in Eswatini in 2003 and earned a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in 2007 and a law degree from the University of New Mexico in 2015.

As rural development undersecretary, Torres Small has oversight of a portfolio of programs, such as ReConnect, which funds projects to give rural communities access to broadband service. Rural development also provides loans and grants for rural businesses, clean water projects in small towns and community facilities that serve local needs.

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