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What to Know Ahead of Samantha Power’s Committee Vote Tomorrow

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will finally be voting on the nomination of Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, for Administrator of the US Agency of International Development tomorrow. Power had her hearing on March 23 before the Senate Spring recess and her confirmation has been waiting to move forward. If confirmed, Power faces the daunting challenge of helping the world recover from COVID-19, combating increased food insecurity, conflict, and unprecedented human displacement, and democratic backsliding.

Power clearly understands the inextricable linkages between food security and conflict, climate change, and COVID-19. In her opening statement, Power mentioned food security three times. She noted that her first interaction with USAID was in war-torn Bosnia, where they were delivering food to vulnerable populations. Power also emphasized that investments made in USAID are also investments in US national security and American prosperity.

Ahead of tomorrow’s vote, here were some highlights from Power’s committee hearing last month:

  • Ethiopia: Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), who recently returned from his diplomatic mission addressing the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, revealed details of his trip. He stated that after meeting with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Daniel Bekele, and other international leaders, such as UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, a thorough and independent investigation on human rights abuses was discussed.  Power agreed on Coons’ call for an investigation but warned of the hurdles the US could face in doing so. “There are many countries where atrocity allegations have occurred that have developed unfortunately creative traditions erecting roadblocks where it matters…. In other words, harassing and intimidating witnesses and so forth, denying visas to particular communities, blaming so-called militia.” The four-month conflict between Ethiopian soldiers and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front has killed more than 50,000 people and displaced thousands. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Addis Ababa of “ethnic cleansing” and called for the withdrawal of Eritrean and Amhara forces from Tigray.
  • Yemen: Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) asked Power for her thoughts on the Biden Administration’s recent decision to undo former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last-minute decision to designate the Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization in January. The Trump administration cut off US aid to Houthi-held Northern Yemen last year, but the Biden Administration has since resumed that assistance and had called it central to its Yemen policy as well as promoting a diplomatic push to resolve the conflict. Power responded, “[The Houthis] have used food as a weapon of war. I’m on record condemning Houthi actions … And so, it is really important, given that that’s the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe right now, that we find a way to give food to those vulnerable people.”
  • Libya: Rand Paul (R-KY) grilled Power over her aggressive push for former President Obama to intervene in Libya when she served on his National Security Council. Power defended the intervention on the grounds that it protected civilians in Benghazi from Mr. Qaddafi saying, “Certainly, the fallout after the intervention – the centrifugal forces – have been incredibly difficult to manage and above all, hard on the Libyan people.” She reminded Senator Paul that there is a set of non-military tools available that carry fewer risks than military intervention and that US support is needed in Libya’s elections, which are currently scheduled for this December.
  • China: Senator Todd Young (R-IN) asked Power whether she believed the US could increase the use of private sector loans to counter Chinese influence in the developing world. He suggested making corporate loans available to developed countries, saying that China also uses its Belt and Road Initiative to focus on development projects in middle-income countries. This issue has seen bipartisan interest, but policymakers have yet to agree on what that looks like. A group of congressional Democrats have advocated doubling the agency’s loan cap as part of their proposed $12 billion increase in the US foreign affairs budget.  Power suggested increasing co-ordination between the Millennium Challenge Corporation, USAID, and other development actors. She noted, “this has been a year of tremendous Chinese expansionism and aggressiveness when it comes to developing countries, but it hasn’t gone that well for China. You actually see very poor polling when it comes to China’s standing in the world.”
  • Pandemic Prevention: Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) discussed preventing future pandemics, citing a recent report that wildlife breeding for animal protein, a practice promoted by the Chinese government, was the likely source of COVID-19. He specifically asked Power if she would work with Congress to reduce the global demand for wildlife that could lead to another zoonotic disease outbreak and invest in food systems and alternative sources of food protein to move food insecure communities away from wildlife consumption. Power said she would, and that part of her challenge as Administrator will be to integrate agriculture, the environment, and health, rather than approaching their various issues in siloes.

President Biden plans to elevate the role of USAID Administrator to include membership on the White House National Security Council. In nominating Power, the President said, “”Samantha Power is a world-renowned voice of conscience and moral clarity — challenging and rallying the international community to stand up for the dignity and humanity of all people.”

Samantha Power served in the Obama administration as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017. From 2009 to 2013, she served on the National Security Council staff as special assistant to the president and as senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights. Before becoming a diplomat, Power reported from Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan, and Zimbabwe as a journalist. She is also the founding executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and is currently a Harvard professor.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on Samantha Power’s nomination on April 15th at 11 AM EST.  You can also watch Power’s Committee vote on the Senate Foreign Relations’ website via live stream. OFW Law will continue to track USAID policy.

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