Dec 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden plans big promotion for Cindy McCain

President Biden and Cindy McCain at a ceremony

Cindy McCain, the wife of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), accepts a Presidential Medal of Freedom on his behalf from President Biden in July 2022. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

President Biden is working to elevate Cindy McCain, the current U.S. ambassador to the World Food Program, to serve as executive director of the Rome-based United Nations agency, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: With Russia's war in Ukraine disrupting the food supply and drought affecting the Horn of Africa, the WFP will need a dynamic leader to raise billions of dollars — and then figure out how to deliver it in hostile territory.

  • The WFP, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020, relies on donations from industrialized and wealthy countries to help fight global hunger, with the U.S. as the biggest contributor.
  • That dynamic puts a premium on the fundraising abilities of the executive director, who will need to convince Congress, including a GOP-controlled House, to meet the agency’s growing needs. In May, the U.S. provided an additional $5 billion in Ukraine-related funding.
  • “I think Cindy deserves a promotion,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Axios. “I think she’s doing a great job.”
  • Devex's Colum Lynch previously reported that Biden officials are pushing McCain for the top job.

Driving the news: The WFP’s current leader, David Beasley, a former Republican governor from South Carolina installed by President Trump, had his term extended for one year last spring after an extraordinary bipartisan intervention by senators, Axios reported. His term is scheduled to end in April 2023.

  • Beasley has made the case to Republicans and Democrats in Congress that funding the WFP saves money in the long run.
  • “If we're not there strategically, you end up with mass migration, destabilization of nations, and famine,” he told Agri-Pulse earlier this month. “And that's a thousand times more expensive.”

The intrigue: In addition to McCain — who is the widow of Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee for president in 2008 —Biden officials have recommended David Lane, a former president of ONE Campaign, an anti-poverty organization, as well as a former U.S. ambassador to the WFP.

  • Although the UN’s secretary general technically makes the formal appointment, the U.S. has long controlled who gets the top job.
  • The president recommends two candidates and then the secretary general runs his own process and makes a selection, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The big picture: President Biden closed out the U.S. Africa Summit today by announcing an additional $2.5 billion for food security and resiliency in Africa.

  • “Today, famine once more stalks the horn of Africa," he said. “The challenges we face are both clear and they are urgent.”
  • “Africa can be the breadbasket for the world,” said Tony Elumelu, a Nigerian billionaire with businesses across Africa and philanthropy programs in more than 50 countries.
  • “We are interested in programs that partner with Africa, not programs that are just for Africa,” he told Axios.
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