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US Senate confirms former Obama official Samantha Power as USAID head

A former US ambassador to the United Nations, Power is now set to oversee and distribute tens of billions of dollars to some of the world's poorest countries
Samantha Power
Samantha Power testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 23 March (AFP/File photo)

The US Senate has confirmed Samantha Power, a former Obama administration official and US ambassador to the United Nations, to run the agency overseeing American foreign humanitarian and development aid.

Power, who was nominated by President Joe Biden, was confirmed in a bipartisan vote of 68-26 on Wednesday. She will lead the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and be responsible for the distribution of tens of billions of dollars.

The agency provides economic, security and health assistance to some of the world's poorest countries. 

Nineteen Senate Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in approving Power's nomination.

Power, 50, celebrated her confirmation in a Twitter post, stating "the Agency's work around the world has never been more vital".

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Biden, who has largely filled his administration with former Obama officials, is also expected to put Power on the White House National Security Council, where she served during Obama's first term.

Power's nomination was advanced by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month. During her nomination hearing she faced questions about presence of migrants along the US southern border and her previous support for US military interventions in Syria and Libya. 

"Are you willing to admit that the Libyan and Syrian interventions that you advocated for were a mistake?” Senator Rand Paul asked Power. She responded: "When these situations arise, it's a question almost of lesser evils - that the choices are very challenging."

From journalist to federal office

A 2003 Pulitzer prize-winning author, during her time as a war correspondent Power chronicled the failure of the US to stop serious crimes against humanity, including genocide. 

As a government employee, she first worked with then-Senator Obama as an adviser before joining his administration in 2008. 

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In becoming part of Obama's government, Power switched from foreign policy critic to foreign policy adviser, ultimately becoming the defender of US foreign policy as UN ambassador during his second term.

Biden has said that Power was now set to ensure that USAID was a "core pillar" of US foreign policy. 

Since the inauguration of the Biden administration, the agency has already renewed many of its past commitments, following four years of massive cuts under former President Donald Trump. 

The former president cut more than a third of USAID funding, cancelling millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians, as well as funds for Yemen and other countries. 

Trump staked out his position on foreign aid during his first presidential campaign, casting it as a waste of US tax dollars.

During his administration, the agency was also staffed with controversial figures, such as Mark Kevin Lloyd, who was named USAID's "religious freedom adviser", despite clear documentation of anti-Muslim rhetoric. 

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