Dec 14, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden weighs Sam Power for USAID

Samantha Power (left) sits at the United Nations in 2014 with National Security adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama
Samantha Power (left) sits at the United Nations in 2014 with National Security adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama. Photo: Anthony Behar-Pool/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering Samantha Power to head the United States Agency for International Development, which would place a high-profile figure atop foreign aid and coronavirus relief efforts, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Installing Power — a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about genocide — would signal the Biden administration plans to revitalize foreign assistance and use it as an instrument of soft power and to achieve humanitarian goals.

Power was a prominent member of President Obama's cabinet and recently wrote a Foreign Affairs article about the president-elect headlined: "The Can-Do Power: America’s Advantage and Biden’s Chance."

  • Biden hasn’t made a final decision on the position, and there could be other candidates — including those who were passed over for Cabinet positions — in the mix.

Power was featured in "The Final Year," a documentary about Obama's foreign policy team, and previously worked as a journalist covering conflict in the Balkans.

  • Among the most pressing issues she would face would be rejoining the World Health Organization and managing America’s global response to COVID-19.
  • “The Trump administration’s response to the most urgent problem in the world today — the coronavirus pandemic — has been worse than that of any other nation,” Power wrote in the Foreign Affairs piece.

The big picture: Power, currently a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, has been a leading advocate for using military force, when justified, to achieve humanitarian goals.

  • USAID is an independent government agency but works in tandem with the State Department. The administrator's job requires Senate confirmation, but isn’t part of the Cabinet.
  • The agency has been in the news lately because of the activities of its Trump appointees.
  • Some Democrats, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have advocated elevating it to a Cabinet-level position.
  • Other potential contenders include Ertharin Cousin, a former executive director of the UN World Food Program, according to Foreign Policy. 
  • A Biden transition official declined to comment.

Flashback: In spring 2011, Power argued for a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Moammar Gadhafi from his stated goal of slaughtering some of his own people.

  • Then-Vice President Biden opposed the no-fly zone, but Obama eventually supported one, a move that led to the deterioration of the U.S.-Russia relationship.

Between the lines: Power’s husband, Cass Sunstein, who ran the highly influential Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in Obama’s first term, could return to government, as well.

Editor's note: Adds detail about Power's journalism career and omits reference to Cameroon incident.

Go deeper