Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday he had apologized to Shirley Sherrod and offered to rehire her at the USDA, after firing her on Monday for remarks that were interpreted to be racist but were later deemed to have been taken out of context.
“I did not think before I acted,” Vilsack said in a press conference at the Agriculture Department. He denied several times, as he has previously, that the White House pressured him to fire Sherrod on Monday.
“These types of decisions require time. I didn’t take the time,” Vilsack said. “As a result, a good woman has gone through a very difficult time, and I’ll have to live with that for a long long time.”
Vilsack said that he made the decision to dismiss Sherrod only after reading a transcript of her remarks in a less than three-minute video that was placed on the Internet. He said he did not know that the remarks were part of a larger speech.
It came to light on Tuesday that the video posted on BigGovernment.com, a conservative website run by Andrew Breitbart, was only a short excerpt of a 43-minute speech in which Sherrod talked about the need to overcome racial tension and discrimination and talked of overcoming such feelings in herself.
Vilsack said that he discussed a job at USDA with Sherrod and that she asked for time to think about it. Vilsack did not specify what job he offered Sherrod, but made clear it was a more senior position than the one she had held previously.
“She has a unique set of skills which I think would lend in helping to assist USDA as we try to turn the page on our civil rights chapter,” said Vilsack.
Vilsack has taken full responsibility for the decision late Monday to force Sherrod out of her job as Georgia director of rural development for USDA, even though the White House has acknowledged that they were communicating with USDA officials before and after the decision to oust her.
The White House has denied that they pressured Vilsack or USDA officials to fire Sherrod. But they have said they were in consultation with USDA on the firing and on the decision to reconsider it, which came late Tuesday and was announced early Wednesday.
Vilsack repeatedly said he was to blame.
“This is a good woman. She’s been put through hell. And I could have done and should have done a better job,” he said. “The buck stops with me, as it should.”