Senate advances Samantha Power nomination as US aid co-ordinator

Bipartisan vote indicates that the full Senate is likely to confirm the former UN ambassador to lead aid operations

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who is President Joe Biden's choice to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development, speaks at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, DC, U.S., March 23, 2021. Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via REUTERS
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Former UN ambassador Samantha Power cleared a key procedural hurdle in the US Senate on Thursday to lead the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which oversees American foreign assistance operations across the globe.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced Ms Power’s nomination to serve as the agency’s director by voice vote with bipartisan support.

“Upon confirmation, I trust that she will appropriately prioritise and elevate this indispensable and often overlooked development arm of US foreign policy,” said Democrat Bob Menendez, the committee chairman, before the vote. “This nomination comes before the committee at a crucial time in the agency’s tenure.”

“USAID will play a crucial role in directing the US response to some of the most important issues of our time, including Covid-19, global forced migration and climate change, and human and resource driven conflicts."

The support of key Republicans on the panel virtually ensures that the full Senate will confirm Ms Power to lead US operations.

"There is no question she has significant qualifications that qualify her for this job," said James Risch, the committee's top Republican, before the vote.

“And while I wasn’t completely satisfied by some of her responses to direct questions, including the need to eliminate cargo preference requirements for emergency food aid, I am reasonably assured she will uphold her promise to work in a bipartisan matter with Congress on this and other issues. And as a result, I will be voting for [former] ambassador Power.”

President Joe Biden's nomination of Ms Power lends significant star power to an important agency that much of Washington often treats as an afterthought.

Mr Biden hopes to bolster the role of US foreign assistance following the Trump administration’s repeated efforts to slash it.

“Upon confirmation, ambassador Power will also be charged with strengthening a weakened agency,” said Mr Menendez. “The past four years have taken their toll on USAID.”

“Internal morale is wounded, relationships with implementing partners are increasingly strained and the politicisation of aid has tarnished the United States’ reputation as a trustworthy partner.”

Ms Power’s status as the former US ambassador to the UN and special assistant on the National Security Council under former president Barack Obama makes her an unusually high-profile nominee to lead USAID.

And while USAID has no role in US military affairs, her staunch advocacy for American military intervention for humanitarian reasons earned her some Republican pushback during her confirmation hearing last month, as did her record on Israel.

Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky grilled her over her staunch advocacy of Mr Obama’s decision to spearhead a Nato intervention in the Libyan civil war that led to the removal and eventual death of Muammar Qaddafi.

Another Republican, Ted Cruz of Texas, put Ms Power on the defensive over the Obama administration’s decision not to use US veto power to halt a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank during her final months as ambassador.

During her hearing, Ms Power also endorsed Mr Biden's reversal of the Trump administration's last-minute decision to designate Yemen's Houthi rebels as a terrorist group and lined up behind calls to launch human rights investigations in Ethiopia's Tigray region.

She also floated the expansion of US private development loans to low-income countries as a means of countering China and praised former president Donald Trump for successfully convincing Britain to ban Chinese technology company Huawei from its 5G networks.