As Syrian Refugee Crisis Grows, Shaheen Leads Calls for Senate Vote to Confirm USAID Administrator

Letter to the Senate Majority Leader urges confirmation of agency head responsible for U.S. humanitarian aid

September 17, 2015

(Washington, DC) – This morning, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) led a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for an immediate vote on the nomination of Gayle Smith to head the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  Smith’s nomination has been held up for over four months with press reports indicating that only one Senator is blocking her nomination. Last night, Shaheen and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) met with Smith to discuss the range of humanitarian efforts in which the U.S. is currently engaged, and to discuss how USAID can continue to lead the world in addressing new, emergent crises. 

 

“In light of the significantly worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria and throughout the Middle East, as well as ongoing challenges with refugees in Europe, we urge you to immediately schedule a vote on the nomination of Gayle Smith to be the next Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID),” the Senator wrote. “We feel strongly that the extraordinary humanitarian crises confronting the U.S. and our allies necessitate urgent action by the Senate to confirm a leader for USAID.  We respectfully request that you schedule a vote on Gayle Smith’s nomination to lead this critical agency without further delay.”

 

The letter was signed by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Udall (NM), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Al Franken (D-MN), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

 

The full text of the letter is included below:

 

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader

S-230, The Capitol

Washington, DC 20520

 

Dear Majority Leader McConnell:

 

In light of the significantly worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria and throughout the Middle East, as well as ongoing challenges with refugees in Europe, we are writing to urge you to immediately schedule a vote on the nomination of Gayle Smith to be the next Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 

 

While the President’s nominee has been waiting for a Senate confirmation vote, the plight of Syrian refugees has come into even sharper focus for many Americans, as we have witnessed an unprecedented exodus of vulnerable civilians desperate to escape violence and hunger.  While all members of the international community have an obligation to assist in responding to this crisis, we strongly believe that the United States, with our unparalleled capacity to mobilize international support for humanitarian efforts, should play a leading role in helping both the Syrian refugees and the neighboring countries hosting them. 

 

Unfortunately, our country’s ability to lead this effort is significantly hampered by the failure of the Senate to vote on Gayle Smith’s nomination to lead USAID.  Nearly four months have passed since she appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which approved her nomination by voice vote in July.  Since then, there has been no attempt to bring her nomination to the Senate floor, even as the humanitarian crisis across the Middle East, and now in Europe, rapidly deteriorates, and the world grapples with the largest number of refugees since World War II. 

 

USAID currently operates in more than 80 countries around the world.  It continues to lead the response in West Africa to last year’s outbreak of the Ebola virus.   Following the devastating earthquake in Nepal this April, members of a USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team were among the first crisis response personnel to deploy there to organize the humanitarian response.  Furthermore, USAID personnel continue to support our development efforts in Afghanistan, which are critical to the long-term success of that country. 

 

We feel strongly that the extraordinary humanitarian crises confronting the U.S. and our allies necessitate urgent action by the Senate to confirm a leader for USAID.  We respectfully request that you schedule a vote on Gayle Smith’s nomination to lead this critical agency without further delay.