Senate Democrats call for USAID to join coronavirus task force

Aaron Schwartz

Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday called for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to be added to the White House’s coronavirus task force, saying the administration needs to combine its domestic and international response to effectively combat COVID-19.

In a letter to Vice President Pence, ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) led the other nine Democratic members of the panel in warning that failing to control the virus internationally threatens a resurgence of the virus domestically.

“As you know, if the pandemic continues to spread around the globe without an adequate international response, the risk of COVID-19’s reintroduction in the United States, once we successfully bring the virus under control domestically, is very high,” the senators wrote.

Coronavirus cases in developing countries and among humanitarian crises are increasing at a rapid rate. These countries have little option to impose strict lockdowns without crippling their economies and thrusting their populations into poverty and hunger.

More developed countries saw their robust health systems overwhelmed with the immense spread of coronavirus cases, despite lockdown measures.

“It is critical that the United States mount a robust federal response to COVID-19 both domestically and internationally to galvanize our partners around the world to work collectively to prevent and end further suffering,” they wrote.

Democratic senators called for placing USAID acting Administrator John Barsa, who took the helm of the agency last month, on the White House’s coronavirus task force. The senators also called for closer cooperation between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and USAID’s international response efforts.

The State Department has made up to $775 million available to help international partners in the fight against the novel coronavirus since March 26, with about half of that money coming from coffers within USAID.

The agency has taken a more pronounced role in addressing the U.S.’s international response to the coronavirus since President Trump last week halted funding to the World Health Organization for up to three months.

The Democratic senators said USAID has yet to provide information to Congress over its international response strategy to the coronavirus pandemic.

“USAID officials have yet to provide any details on the strategy, planning, or priorities of its COVID-19 mission,” the senators wrote.

“If the United States executes a comprehensive and collaborative international response effort now, we may avoid a worst-case scenario; continued delay could result in hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and a global economic downturn that will jeopardize our own recovery,” they added.

In addition to Menendez, the letter was signed by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Tags Ben Cardin Bob Menendez Chris Coons Chris Murphy Christopher Coons Cory Booker Donald Trump Ed Markey Jeanne Shaheen Jeff Merkley Mike Pence Tim Kaine Tom Udall

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