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Washington D.C.- House Foreign Affairs Lead Republican Michael McCaul gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing highlighting the Biden Administration’s foreign assistance priorities and USAID’s FY22 budget request. 

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-Opening Remarks as Delivered-

“I want to thank Chairman Meeks for holding this important hearing.

I also want to thank Administrator Power for joining us today. Let me say I really enjoyed our call last month, I thought it was very productive and very well qualified, and I look forward to working with you along with the chairman. 

As we look at the many global challenges – including the COVID-19 recovery– the work of USAID and our partners has never been more important.

I am gravely concerned about the growing humanitarian emergency and refugee crisis that is brewing in Afghanistan right now.

Hard fought gains to advance stability, women’s rights, and democracy are being wiped out as the Taliban continues to re-take that country.

The president has reiterated U.S. assistance to Afghanistan will continue post-withdrawal.

But I would find that more difficult as the Taliban takes over. As the security situation worsens, I am concerned about your ability to monitor and implement these critical assistance programs.

Turning to Africa, as the chairman said, there are many spots around the world and many crises but in Africa, the man-made famine in the Tigray region of Ethiopia threatens the lives of millions.

The Government of Ethiopia continues to restrict humanitarian aid access, and the people of Tigray who are starving.

I am also concerned by rising instability and terrorist activity in Northern Mozambique, in the Sahel and in coastal West Africa.

In 2019, Congress passed my Global Fragility Act. The law requires the administration to coordinate diplomatic, development, and defense efforts.

This will help stabilize conflict areas and address the root causes of fragility.

Yet, the selection of priority countries by this Administration is over six months late. I hope, administrator, you and I can work together with the listing of those countries.  

Turning to the Western Hemisphere, the crisis at our Southern border is the worst that I have seen throughout my professional career.

USAID plays a critical role in supporting economic growth, and in combatting violence and corruption to address root causes of migration. In fact Administrator Power, I talked to your predecessor Mark Green just this last weekend about efforts that can be taken in the Northern Triangle Central American countries to help further private investment which I think would get to the root cause of migration.

 In Cuba, we have historic protests that demonstrate the people’s rejection of the communist dictatorship there. 

I believe this Administration must support their democratic aspirations and hold regime officials accountable for human rights violations.

And in Haiti, recent unrest and threatening, assassination, is threatening an already fragile political and economic situation.

I am also concerned by humanitarian crisis and human suffering in Syria, Yemen and Venezuela, with no end in sight.

And, around the world, USAID plays a critical role in countering the malign investments of the Chinese Communist Party, especially in the Indo-Pacific.

On top of these global challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic, has erased years of progress towards ending extreme poverty.

It has pushed millions more people into severe food insecurity and malnutrition, and has destabilized fragile states.

That is why I believe the U.S. needs to get our vaccines out the door and into these nations.

Our allies and partners are left in limbo, unsure what to expect from both U.S. assistance and COVAX allocations.

It is disturbing that COVAX has announced it will purchase and distribute less effective Chinese-manufactured COVID-19 vaccines.  In fact, we had an amendment on our markup yesterday on this.

Especially as the CCP continues to use vaccines to further their own coercive political and economic agenda.

It is my assessment, that we are not winning on vaccine diplomacy.

And I believe the administration needs to correct that.

In the last year, Congress appropriated over 16 billion dollars to support global COVID-19 response efforts.

This was critical funding to combat the pandemic overseas as well as address second order impacts.

And then this year, the administration requested an increase of almost 7 billion dollars.

While I understand there are rising global needs, I am concerned the Agency will not be able to effectively do this program, and the money, particularly on top of the unspent COVID-19 funds.

According to latest OIG audit, USAID missions are unable to fully monitor foreign aid programs due to COVID-19 limitations.

 The U.S. is – and has long been – the largest foreign aid donor.

 But we cannot do this alone.

 As the U.S. does more, our partners need to step up as well.

I also urge the Administration to maintain the ‘Journey to Self-Reliance’ framework, championed by former administrator, Mark Green.

Ending the need for foreign aid should be the goal of all our development programs.

Ultimately, the U.S. model for foreign aid – and the goal of advancing countries’ self-reliance – stands in stark contrast with the malign efforts of the Chinese Communist Party.

The so-called aid provided by the CCP through its Belt and Road Initiative pushes countries into crippling debt traps, while bolstering authoritarian regimes.

Our foreign aid must serve as a clear alternative, while saving lives and projecting U.S. global leadership around the world.

 So administrator, you obviously have a lot of work to do, but as always the chairman and I are very much looking forward to working with you on these many challenges and with that Mr. chairman I yield back.”

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-Questions and Answers as Delivered-

Rep. McCaul: “Thank you Mr. Chairman, and Administrator Power, its great to see you again. I’d like to just quickly talk about Afghanistan.

As you know, the security conditions are deteriorating very rapidly with the Taliban taking probably more than 80% of the country surrounding the provincial capitals and the embassy in Kabul.

What is your, and I know it’s subject to security on the ground, but what is USAID’s plan to get assistance to what we know is going to be a major humanitarian crisis?”

Administrator Power: Thank you. Well our international partners are certainly doing contingency planning for refugee outflows into neighboring countries.

The estimates are now 500,000 by the end of the year likely to flow outward and that is a large number, but even some of the darker scenarios would produce even more substantial outflow than that, as you all know.

There is internal displacement, which we already see. I think what I would just say is that, one can’t, and you know this better than I do, but it is important not to decouple the security conversation and what our security partnership with the Afghan National Forces looks like from the question of embassy security and our development programming.

Our partners right now, not withstanding the multiple district centers, want to stay. Many of our partners were there before 9/11 and before the U.S. arrived.

They have been in Afghanistan for 50-60 years some of them.

The other dimension of how we seek to be nimble in this very difficult circumstance is that because of COVID, many of our implementing partners have been working also remotely to reach beneficiaries, you know sort of not going to offices, not coming to the embassy, etc.. So I think right now the will is there, even in territories that the Taliban has taken over – you see agencies like the World Food Program able to operate for now.

But, the other piece of this, and you and I had the opportunity to talk about this on the phone, and I really appreciate your outspoken leadership on this, but being able to offer assurances to our USAID employees, to our implementing partners, that we have their backs.

And that if they seek to stay, that if we do end up in  the darkest of all scenarios that we will stand with the, and that’s what all the planning around SIVs and potentially refugee resettlement program also entails.”

Rep. McCaul: “Thank you. And if I could say, I commend the administration for paying attention to the interpreter issue and announcing today that they will be evacuated to a safe country.

Just with the little bit of time I have left, COVAX. This has to be strategic to counter the CCP’s vaccine diplomacy efforts – I am seeing it taking place in many countries that where they want exchanges for promises about Taiwan or they want access to military bases etc. Where are we with that program?

And if I could just add, this  Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, have come out with a phase 3 vaccine, one shot, that doesn’t need the refrigeration like the others, and its not subject to the Defense Production Act.

They’ve already signed a contract for 300 million doses with India, and I see this as an opportunity to collaborate with them in addition to Pfizer, Moderna, J&J, to try to get this vaccine out where it’s most needed.”

Administrator Power: “Thank you. There’s a lot in both what you just said and in your opening statement as well about the Chinese purchase that I hope I’ll have a chance to get to.

But just in brief, it is extremely important that the United States is now in the vaccine shipping business.

We did have acute domestic needs, we’ve made a lot of progress across the country, much more to be done.

But donating that 80 million doses, seeing the gratitude, in the spirit of partnership as you say, not in a predatory way, not in a ‘ok, you scratch our back and here’s what were going to ask you to do tomorrow’, but in that spirit that that I think needs to undergird all of our programming.

That’s really important.

The 500 million dose purchase that the United States negotiated to bring the prices way down, those 500 million are going to go through COVAX to low and lower middle-income countries.

The problem right now, and maybe your Texas idea, I’m not Anthony Fauci, and the CDC, and wouldn’t pretend to be, but I can tell you that right now the gating issue for every country, never mind for COVAX, is supply.

And so the reason that COVAX found itself in this position of negotiating a purchase – and by the way it is appalling that China did not donate these vaccines, there are efficacy questions, and I’ll leave that to the scientists, it does have a WHO license to be used, the Chinese vaccines, but having never contributed financially to COVAX, to not see fit to do what the G7 is doing, which is to donate those vaccines, is completely outrageous, and very typical again, I think, of the Chinese development approach – but COVAX is in the position its in, because India’s had to pull back so much supply that had been intended to go for second shots and for health workers.

COVAX, has found itself in this 3rd quarter in a really difficult pinch. That is going to change when the Pfizer doses start coming online in August.

It’s already changing for some countries because of our bilateral sharing of surplus vaccines, but the more doses we bring online that can be a part of the American leadership on this issue, where we are singlehandedly not going to vaccinate the world, but we can mobilize the world to get it vaccinated.

And I think that is a position we’ve moved into, but more needs to be done.”

Rep. McCaul: “Well thanks ambassador. I look forward to working with you. And my time’s expired.”