When we spoke, Power promised there would be a big announcement about vaccines at the Group of 7 meeting that took place last week. Last Thursday, Biden said that the United States would donate half a billion vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries through Covax, the international vaccine-sharing initiative that Trump refused to join. It would be the biggest vaccine donation any country has made so far and spurred other countries to step up their contributions. By the end of the meeting, leaders had pledged a billion doses by 2022.
Biden’s commitment still isn’t enough — and it’s not the sum of America’s work on vaccines, which also involves trying to help build manufacturing capacity in developing countries — but it showed what a difference American leadership makes. Power described it as “a major down payment on Biden’s pledge to become an arsenal of vaccines for the world.”
While Covid is the planet’s most immediate crisis, it’s far from the only one. At her confirmation hearing Power spoke of “four interconnected and gargantuan challenges confronting the world at this moment.” In addition to Covid, these are climate change, conflict and state collapse, and democratic backsliding.
During the Trump years, Power said, U.S.A.I.D. wasn’t allowed to use the term “climate change.” “Imagine you work for this agency, you see the planet getting warmer every day, you see more conflict caused by climate every year, you see more displacement caused by climate, you do the emergency response, you have to feed the people who’ve been displaced, and you can’t use the words ‘climate change’ in the agency,” she said.
Power has to contend not just with the damage Trump did to America’s place in the world but also with the damage he did to U.S.A.I.D. By most accounts, Trump’s first U.S.A.I.D. administrator, Mark Green, was able to protect the agency, but after Green resigned last year, things started to fall apart.
The administration installed a loyalist named John Barsa and sent far-right operatives to work under him, including Merritt Corrigan, who once denounced liberal democracy and called Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban “the shining champion of Western civilization,” and Mark Kevin Lloyd, a religious freedom adviser with a history of wildly Islamophobic Facebook posts. (Corrigan’s firing was announced after she sent a burst of tweets blasting gay rights, Democrats and U.S.A.I.D. itself.)
A Trump appointee on a bureau dealing with democracy globally — one who preceded Barsa — claimed that the 2020 election was rigged. Another described the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as a mostly peaceful crowd “committed to electoral reform.”