Remarks: USAID Acting Administrator Gloria Steele’s Participation in A U.S. Global Leadership Coalition Panel on Democracy

Press Release Shim

Speeches Shim

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

MS. SCHRAYER: Well hello and welcome everyone to USGLC’s first town hall meeting of 2021: American Democracy and What's at Stake at Home and Abroad. So, I'm Liz Schrayer, President and CEO of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, and I am thrilled to welcome partners from literally across the country to what is going to be a critical conversation. As I said, it's the first of our calendar year. The first of the 117 Congress, a new Administration, and just about a month ago, of what was a peaceful transfer of power that we saw in Washington DC. But as we all saw on January 6, our democracy was certainly tested. Now, I know our audience today is diverse, we have Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and we everybody is entering this conversation with different perspectives, but USGLC welcomes all opinions and we love being a Big Ten Coalition with businesses, nonprofits, veterans, faith leaders from every state. But one thing that brings us all together is we have this passionate commitment for democracy. We know it is precious and we also know it is fragile, both here in our own country and around the world.

And one of the things that brings USGLC together as I said is this belief that America's engagement in the world is directly linked to America's health and economic well being. And this past year with the global pandemic nothing has brought that issue home more dramatically and directly. And one of the big issues that we're going to unpackage today, is how it has impacted the democracy agenda. In the last 15 years, Freedom House has tracked that democracy has declined worldwide for 15 years in a row. We're really proud at USGLC to have advocated for our democracy programs that have been led by institutions like USAID, which we're going to hear from, the National Endowment for Democracy that works with great partners like IRI and NDI, and we're going to really talk about what's been happening with jailing in Russia and coups going on throughout the world and why those matter and impact us here in the U.S. Now we have an all-star lineup for you and I'm going to introduce them.

We are thrilled that this is one of these issues that is bipartisan, and you're going to hear from leaders of the House Democracy Partnership. First up is Representative David Price, who represents North Carolina's fourth congressional district and has been a longtime champion of USGLC’s agenda. Chairing several key committees, leading key committees, and he is the chair of the House Democracy Partnership.

And he used to chair with a longtime friend of mine, and is former congressman, Pete Roskam. He is not only a board member of the USGLC, but the vice chair of the National Endowment for Democracy. Now a partner of Sidley Austin, he represented the Illinois sixth district for many years. So let's see. First Peter and David, Congressman Price, Congressman Roskam, I think you're on, go ahead and let our audience see you, both of you. There is Congressman Roskam, Congressman Price, you have to put your video camera on. I know I saw you just a few moments ago,

While he's doing that, I will let you know the third of our fabulous panel is, we're going to be joined by Acting Administrator, - there is Congressman Price - and the two of them, not only work together on what's known as HDP, the House Democracy Partnership. They traveled together in places like Ukraine and Moldova, engaging peer to peer dialogue with hundreds of legislators they'll tell you about to strengthen democracy institutions around the world.

And our final panelist is Acting Administrator of USAID, Gloria Steele, who is, I gotta tell you, is one of the most highly respected, dedicated public servants for four decades has worked at USAID, literally working on every issue under the sun, but particularly an expert on what we're going to talk about today: democracy. So welcome to all three of you.

All right, I'm going to jump in. Congressman Price and Congressman Roskam, if I can start with the two of you. I have to say I think everyone on the call felt a bit of a heartache following the events of January 6. But a few hours after watching the insurgency on Capitol Hill, I have to say, we also saw the resilience of our institutions because hours later there was Congress, finishing their constitutional duty and finishing the electoral votes. And I know both of you have taken this passion of being leadership of House Democracy partnership very seriously. And one of the things Congressman Price, I was taken by, is you and your current HDP co-chair, Congressman Buchanan spoke out immediately. And you said that we have a need to continue working with others around the world to strengthen,“democratic principles and practices now more than ever.”

So maybe you could start off - why don't Congressman Price you kick it off and then Congressman Roskam after, where you see the greatest impact of this House Democracy Partnership working, and how important you see the strength of our democracy at home, impacting our global leadership efforts in democracy, around the world.

Congressman Price if you could start us off and Congressman Roskam after.

CONGRESSMAN PRICE: Thank you. I'm glad to join you with my friend Peter Roskam and to be reminded of our vital partnership with USAID and with, particularly the NDI and the IRI who often contract with USAID to this work on the ground in the countries that we're partnering with. So it's great to have everybody together under the auspices of the GLC, which of course, is a very powerful force, these days for focusing attention on diplomacy, on the kind of worldwide role that the United States needs to claim, needs to restore, I think in many respects. You have been forthright advocates throughout this pandemic of making sure there was an international component to the pandemic relief. We haven't fully measured up to that. I'm well aware but I believe we're on our way in this current bill to doing the good bit better but in any case you've shone a light on that need and that obligation of our country. So I especially appreciate the GLC's role in keeping us focused on America's international role.

You've asked a lot of questions. Let me just quickly say that we do have a challenge and an opportunity posed, by the recent crises in our own country. Peter and I were involved- I'll never forget the trip we took. Peter led the trip back in 2017 to Ukraine and Georgia and Caucasus region, and it was three months into the new presidential term and there were a lot of questions raised about our country's relationship with Russia, and our country's continuing commitment to democratic development and to legislative strengthening, the kind of thing that HDP as has focused on. And it was - I wouldn't say we knew exactly how to handle it because we've not been cast in this kind of broader interpretive and advocacy role before. But the questions were pretty obvious and I think on a bipartisan basis, we managed to convey that first of all, we were committed to our piece of the action in terms of peer to peer relationships with Parliament and legislatures, to build capacity, and also to indicate that we, on a bipartisan basis, were committed to this as a country. And as it turned out, whatever the Trump budgets look like, you had strong bipartisan support in the Congress for restoring those State Department budgets for the most part, including the democracy development component. So we were able to offer assurances on that at an early point.

I would also say that we've always been modest in our approach and I don't think this is a fake modesty, we have a lot to be modest about in this country. We have never claimed to have it perfect. We've always said in our relationships with other countries that democracy is a work in progress, that in our own country we had some harsh contradictions at the very beginning in terms of our professed values. And then over time each generation has to work out what democratic values and democratic ideals mean in their time.

And so, we never have put us or our system on a pedestal. And that's true in the particulars, you know we've never suggested a particular constitutional arrangement, but it's also true in the kind of approach we've taken. Early on, we changed the name of our commission. We started out as the House Democracy Assistance Commission, and we quickly picked up that that wasn't quite right, it wasn't true to our attitudes, and it didn't necessarily make for a good reception with some of our partners. We are a partnership, we are relating in a way that understands that while we're as proud as we can be of our 225 year history, we don't pretend that we've arrived. And we have constant challenges to deal with within our legislature, of course, and now it's of course abundantly clear that even such basic things as the peaceful transfer of power cannot be taken for granted. So, I think we've laid the groundwork. If not, absolutely, but at least in the kind of approach we've taken, means that we continue to understand that we have a lot to talk about. And that we approach our brother and sister countries and parliamentarians as peers and with mutual respect, we are going to work on our problems together. I'll get to your question later about the main achievements.

MS. SCHRAYER: Alright, that’s a great beginning, I love that. I love that. The humbleness in your comment but also the confidence of where we're starting from. Congressman Roskam, what's your opening thought?

FORMER CONGRESSMAN ROSKAM: Well, Liz, thank you so much. It's a real joy to be with you and folks across the country today, and with Gloria Steel, of course, at USAID and with my friend, who I admire so much, David Price. Now David is a political science professor, and I would always learn things on every one of these trips when he would interact with folks around the world. And there is a brightness and a sense of clarity that he brings to all these challenges that I always found really, really encouraging and so this was an area where we would travel on a bipartisan basis with other members of Congress. It was really interesting because the congressional delegation itself spanned the entire spectrum, philosophically - we had very liberal members, very conservative members, from northern states and southern states, and urban and rural and so forth, but when we would interact with our interlocutors as parliamentarians in other countries, you get no sense of where anybody, any of the American members of the House were coming from philosophically, other than this discussion about democracy and how important it was.

I think what was interesting was we made a special effort, Liz, to connect with parliamentarians, in particular. When you have a congressional delegation coming to a country there's some check the box meetings that you have to do, and some executive branch meetings that you have to do, but what we would really try and build in with the help of USAID was time with parliamentarians, and particularly the further down into the parliamentary system, we could get the better off and the more help we thought we were being.

What was interesting was even though we were oftentimes speaking with translators, you know when you're interacting, you can kind of get the feeling that you're almost finishing each other's sentences, because we could relate to the challenges that they were feeling - they're under incredible pressure as all Parliament's are around the world. All legislators are under incredible pressure around the world. Why? Because people want things quickly, and they're not really enamored by process. We're an instant gratification culture in the United States and certainly this manifests itself around the world, and a lot of constituencies are looking for things quickly.

And what we were doing was essentially making a process argument, and building those things up. So I want to reiterate David's observation that there was humility with which we were approaching this, and it wasn't formulaic. We weren't coming in, saying look, here's the ABCs about how to do this and we leave some brochure behind or some playbook - not at all. What ended up happening was relationships would develop, and sometimes those parliamentarian figures would visit Washington or, many times the National Democratic Institute or the International Republican Institute would be following up. Many times USAID would be following up. So it was a very much a holistic approach, and I think that the bottom line is we were oftentimes trying to be an encourager by just showing up and being present and acknowledging the nature of the challenge. We weren't there pumping sunshine, telling these people that this is an easy task or an easy job, but we were able to communicate, not just the urgency, because there's a lot of urgent things that are around us, but the importance of this work that they were doing. And we got very good feedback on that. And I think back, my predecessor on the Republican side is a good friend of David's, and that's David Dreier from California, and along, you know, a storied career David Dreier I think spent 32 years in Congress, and when he was talking to me about the House Democracy Partnership and he shared all kinds of things on the Republican side, including the Rules Committee which had a lot of influence. David Dreier said to me, Peter, the most significant work I did and the most satisfying work I did when I was in Congress was through the House Democracy Partnership.

MS. SCHRAYER: That’s awesome, that’s great. I'm going to come back to both of you. I want to pick up on authoritarianism and what's happening with COVID, but Gloria I want to get you in this conversation because USAID, both of the two congressmen have already talked about, has this pivotal role in supporting democracy, human rights, the governance overseas, so talk about you know, monitoring elections, combating corruption. Is what you're really doing on the ground - I mean make this real for our audience, of what and how USAID is taking what the two congressmen just said, and making it real. How do you do it? How do you get on the ground and make this real?

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR STEELE: Thank you very much Liz, and thank you for the very kind introduction.

It's not easy. And I think one of the first things that we've learned is what Representative Price has said is, we do it in partnership with the countries that we work with. We do it in partnership with the government, with the civil society, and the private sector. We can’t do it by ourselves. We can’t want it more than they do. But what we do is provide them with lessons learned, techniques, technical assistance in various areas that we work in.

I am an agricultural economist by training, and I've always been biased towards economics, but one of the things I learned over the last few years is the foundational role that democracy plays. And we see this today. When authoritarianism, when lack of transparency breaks that, when transparency breaks down every other sector gets affected. And so we see what happened with COVID.

Look at the impact of COVID on health, not just health but on education, environment. And then of course human rights, the rights of people have become really threatened and challenged these days because of COVID, which started with a lack of transparency and authoritarian approach to a health issue. And so what we do, going back to how do we do it. We do it with a lot of humility. We do it realizing that democracy itself is always a work in progress. And we do it in partnership with groups like HDP, NDI, IRI and other groups that we work with, very very vitally important. But most importantly, it's with a firm understanding of what the countries and the people themselves want. And unlike other approaches, we do not impose our own ideas. We share what we have, and hopefully can lead them to different alternatives that they have and hopefully they follow. And with the assistance that we get with, with groups we work with by HDP they see what positive alternatives there are and what options are available to them. So it's a work in progress. It's always something we keep working on and being better at and build upon.

MS. SCHRAYER: That's great. I want to come back to you on a question but let me go back to Congressman Price. You know one of the things I'm going to pick up on is something Gloria said- COVID. One of the things that just struck me is I mentioned this 15 year decline in consecutive years of global decline in democracy and democratic institutions which you know well. And we've been watching like you have, that over the course of the pandemic 80 countries have seen a decline in conditions of democracy and human rights, and it's just stunning of the impact in so many ways, COVID has had on health and economics, but it's really stunning to see the impact it's had on democracies, that people are having horrific issues in their countries.

How concerned are you and give me an example of what your relationships that you and Peter and others have been building? How are you reaching out to your fellow legislators around the world, and using HDP, using your partnerships, to help try to bring some impact of saying here's some tools you can use or some examples of how you can respond to this decline of democracy around the world. It's got to be concerning to you.

CONGRESSMAN PRICE: You're right about those Freedom House statistics and about the overall trends and this was true before the pandemic. One of the things HDP has tried to do over the years is to become a little faster on our feet, and get good with the cases that are moving in the other direction.

When there's a major change in Armenia, we’re there; when there's a major change in Sri Lanka, we’re there; same was true of the Gambia or Nepal, and other situations. They don't always stay on that trajectory. But we understand that we need to be a little more agile in encouraging a democratic development. Even when we're not absolutely certain that it is firmly established.

Having said that, the trends are pretty daunting and I think it's fair to say that in most instances COVID has maybe made it worse. One of the things we did, our executive director Derek Luyten has been, and NDI and IRI as our partners, have been pretty, pretty quick to adapt to the online environment. I wouldn't begin to suggest substitutes, but still we were online with Tunisia MPs within just weeks of the pandemic coming on and others have fallen and so a major topic of conversation has been their country's coping with COVID, what that has looked like, and you know, clearly the situation in Burma, that we're just now, that we're now so distressed over COVID had a lot to do with that. They kind of pretext that it provided for tightening down and the kind of unrest that it provoked. Kenya, there, there was a marked move toward something almost like martial law in some parts of Kenya. Sri Lanka, the regression there away from democracy [inaudible]. All of that has been exacerbated by COVID, the delay of elections, the delay of resumption of parliamentary activity and so on. I think it's pretty clear that COVID has been a serious complicating factor, which I think underscores the importance of the GLC’s work and understanding that COVID in more ways than one, is an international phenomenon that has international ramifications that not just health ramifications. And also in underscoring the importance of our work just as quickly as we can, we want to get back in business, in the end, so we're on the ground working with these folks. But in the meantime, we need to stay in touch. We and our partners need to adapt. And we just can't let this slip in any more than is absolutely avoidable. I think it underscores, it makes our work more difficult, but also underscores its importance.

MS. SCHRAYER: Yeah, but what you're bringing out is, I think it's kind of a missed story, and that's why I'm so glad we're doing this today is what you're talking about is the missed story of how citizen engagement is really being hurt. Peter, if I could add, bring you in on this. One of the things I know you're really following because you and I talked about it, is this rising influence of countries, picking up what Congressman Price just talked about, countries like Russia and China, who are using these manipulative tools to take advantage of this. We've been following obviously the news is about election interference and misinformation, but they're really taking advantage of what Congressman Price was just talking about. Your work on the National Endowment for Democracy board is really focusing in on this rise of authoritarianism, and supporting this, and what to do about supporting pro democracy voices. So my question is, what do we do? So we just heard kind of more of the problem. So turn to the solution. What can we be doing, given that we have to use, as Congressman Price says [inaudible] zooms, then we can get the on the ground work. Help, what's the solution?

FORMER CONGRESSMAN ROSKAM: Well here's part of the solution, Liz. Part of it is us being faithful, and us being consistent, and us using our voices to say look, we're not going to choose to be overwhelmed by these events, we're not, we're not going to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by this technology, we're not going to allow ourselves to be silenced and marginalized. And there's a real temptation out there I think right now, and that is to be cynical about the whole thing.

Indulge me in a 60 second story: an old Sunday school teacher of mine is a wealthy investment banker and I once I asked him a question. I said, How do you avoid being cynical about everybody approaching you just because you're wealthy and everybody just wants something. And he said something to me Liz that was really formative for me. He said, Peter guard your heart against cynicism, because nothing good comes from a cynical heart. If people are manipulating me, that's their problem. That's not my problem. And I think therein lies, there is a brightness to that, even in this very difficult situation that we find ourselves in.

Yes, there's malign influences. Yes, there are voices, strong voices, of authoritarianism who will take every advantage that they can. And what they want to do basically is marginalize people who celebrate democracy and, you know what the storyline is: ‘Oh democracies, you’re a thing of the past. You're ramble, you’re yesterday. You can't get anything done.’ We would hear this all the time, the subtext of these discussions that we had with parliamentarians, David and I in our groups as we were traveling around the world, particularly countries that were surrounding China and Russia. I remember having discussions with Mongolian parliamentarians. Mongolia, surrounded by Russia and China, and yet they're this democracy that's hanging in there, and they look at the United States and they call us their third neighbor, and they're faithful to these principles. That's not to say that they haven't had some bumps and bruises along the way because they have, but that is to say that what we can do is make sure that we are among those who are faithful to this. And frankly USGLC is right in the middle of this, making sure that interests and incentives are aligned and that this is not just some bumper sticker enterprise that doesn't mean anything but we view this as hugely consequential to global stability. And that, in fact, our shared prosperity is inextricably linked to these principles. So these authoritarians, they over characterize, they oversell, they over promise and so forth. And when, when it all comes down to it, they can't deliver the types of things that a robust democracy can deliver. Now we're competitive on this and we've got to make sure that we compete, but I would say the first thing that we can all do is to decide to be faithful and part of our faithfulness is being articulate about these things.

MS. SCHRAYER: Gloria, then this becomes you. So part of it is also our investment in it, so there's a lot of questions about this already in the chat. So one of the things that comes to my mind, is I always get asked you know China's expanding its engagement in the developing world through its Belt and Road Initiative. That's just one example of what could I think Peter was just talking about, and many countries have faced threats to their sovereignty so we can be faithful, but what are we doing I think that's kind of what Peter you're talking about him with Congress, you know David you're talking about. USAID, I'm putting you a little bit on the spot, you know, we doing enough, are we strengthening and investing enough in our democracy and governance programs, and you know you don't have total control over your budget, a lot of it Congress decides what your budget is so you have to do the best of what you get. But from your own vantage point, are we doing enough on this [inaudible] democracy and governance agenda, what do you think?

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR STEELE: We can always do more, but we do what we can. One of the things that we've done over the years is invest in civil society. And invest in real local, in the people themselves, and develop that capacity and capability to be able to do it on their own.

And we also invest in governments, we invest in their ability to come up with policies that would make them not get distressed, as the Belt and Road Initiative sometimes does. We help them with their public financial management, to be able to review the loan program ahead of them. We help them in procurement, so that they can level the playing field and attract other investors besides China, we invest in their infrastructure. And then we invest in the civil society to serve watchdogs. I remember several years ago, in the Philippines when all the projects in Mindanao were going to [inaudible] projects were going to China. Civil society stood up and said no, that's not right, they’re in the blacklist, we should not do that. [inaudible] themselves, so it just keeps giving. So, that, I think, that's how we try to stretch the funds that we get to develop capability in the people at all levels from government to civil society, to the private sector. We make sure that they demand to understand and to know what their government is doing. We invest in free and fair elections, in voter education, etc, so that they can choose the people, to the extent that they can, they can choose the people who will represent them, and who make the laws and the policies. And it's not all, it doesn't always turn out right, but invest in those things so that they can do it on their own.

MS. SCHRAYER: Give them the tools that they need. It brings us back to, I'm going to open it up to questions to the audience, but let me get one more into the two congressmen. You started saying this, but I, one of the things that I think strikes us all, is Washington is so polarized. Both of you said right from the beginning, that this is one space that isn't polarized. I love, Peter, when you said when you showed up with the other parliamentarians, you weren't a Democrat and Republican, you were Americans, talking to other legislators. I saw this poll, a survey that was done by University of Pennsylvania, what's called their Democracy Project, and 71% of Americans favor this statement: U.S. Government, taking steps to support democracy and human rights in other countries. So a big chunk of America supports what you are doing, what the two of you have done, and now Congressman Price with Congressman Buchanan are doing, that you're going out and helping support democracy and human rights and Gloria, your work.

So my question is, you know, tie these things together. What we do abroad and what this polarized moment is in our own country is. How can we build on the bipartisan legacy of supporting democracy both here and abroad, you know, are there opportunities, what are the challenges Congressman Price? What do you think? There's a lot of questions in the chat about this, about whether this feeling towards democracy can be translated both abroad and here at home. Congressman Price, what do you think?

CONGRESSMAN PRICE: Well, that’s a question I would expect to come from the head of the GLC [inaudible].

MS. SCHRAYER: It’s bipartisan; this purple America.

CONGRESSMAN PRICE: Well, you champion a bipartisan approach but you've also had a, let's say eclectic approach, which I think it should be to how we justify this work, we all know there's a humanitarian kind of moral impulse at the heart of our work internationally. We shouldn't deny that. But we also know that this country's interests are well served by having a democratic family of nations where, you know, the fighting is taking place in the legislative hall and not in the streets and where our engagement is of a partnership, a partner, a friendly partner, and we're not being asked to intervene in other ways and so on. And so, you know, there clearly is an element of national self interest here as well as other values that we engage. But it hasn't always been bipartisan. I mean, we most people on this call can probably remember when there was a senator from my state who demagogued foreign aid terribly. And there are still a few members around who say they will never vote for a foreign aid bill, not too many more simply. but we can remember when this was made into a kind of almost a cultural issue to you? You help folks at home or do folks overseas, posing that kind of false dilemma.

I give George W. Bush a lot of credit, and Colin Powell, a lot of credit for overcoming this. Some of the initiatives that were undertaken after 9/11, and also the global health work that was done on a thoroughly bipartisan basis. And ever since then, we've had a rather cooperative approach toward most aspects of foreign aid and it's gotten a little shaky sometime. I got very nervous last year when, when President Trump seemed to suggest that the reason people weren't getting their payments, their direct payments on pandemic aid, was because it was all going to foreign countries. He said that but, you know, nobody much picked up on that.

And so I think we've got a good deal of bipartisan support going and it's broadly based. I mean the evangelical community is very drawn to the global health work, and other kinds of faith traditions are drawn to other aspects of this, everybody may have their own reason. But I do think we've kept a good bipartisan basis going.

One additional aspect of this, what is the place of democracy support within foreign aid in general? That's a big question for USAID and I think for all of us. And then for us, what's the place of legislative strengthening within democracy promotion? You know, there's some questions about how we allocate resources here, but I would argue, obviously that the right kind of democracy promotion is essential to everything else, and that’s not to take anything at all away from global health or other areas of foreign aid.

MS. SCHRAYER: No, I mean, part of this, part of the reason we want to have this webinar is to draw attention to the importance of democracy and promotion. So, this is very important to us.

Congressman Roskam, what do you think about this? And we're not talking about specifically democracy promotion and governance. Bipartisan?

FORMER CONGRESSMAN ROSKAM: To build on David's point, there has historically been this bipartisan effort around democracy promotion and foreign aid in general, and that was not always the case. Okay, so now bipartisanship is under real pressure, and I would stipulate that the ability to co sponsor bills and to be seen with one another and so forth, has gotten quite to an accelerated point. Now is the time to be intentional about building a framework of protection around this effort. Set another way, if this gets swapped over, if this all becomes partisan, it doesn't end well. And it's not partisan now. So the name of the game is to keep this dry so to speak, keep this to be a safe place. And it will only happen if members choose not to attack one another and sort of take cheap shots over this. There's some of that around the fringes and you can imagine that there can be this, this odd confluence, and this is where I think there's a possibility of a flashpoint of danger Liz, this odd confluence between the far right, who says, we can’t afford to be involved here. And the far left, that says we have no right to be involved here. Both of these groups come together, motivated by different things, but they come to the same conclusion. And that is, let's not be involved here. It's terrible. We don't want that.

And to your point, a majority of Americans don't think that way. And we need to be reminding Americans, that majority of Americans, why they don't think that way. So I would say, now is the time to be in a somewhat defensive posture, about keeping this space bipartisan for the reasons that I've just described. And if we're successful in doing that, then the partisanship is going to wane, it will wane over time and the wattage is going to lower, and you can just sense it, it will. And then we’ll be able to build on that. But right now, I'd say defending this ground is very, very important.

MS. SCHRAYER: Okay, that's really helpful. All right, let me take a few questions. I don't know who they're going to but I see Nicole [inaudible] from Arizona one of our new Next Gen. We have a Next Generation group of 100 young leaders from across the country.

So, Nicole, you have to unmute yourself.

QUESTION: Thank you can, can you hear me? Great. Thank you so much for this event, your insight, I really appreciate it. As Liz mentioned my name is Nicole [inaudible] and I'm a member of USGLC Next Gen Global Leaders Network from Arizona. And we've seen time again that government can't go it alone when it comes to solving complex global challenges. A couple of you touched on this a little bit already, but when it comes to America's efforts to promote democracy abroad, how do U.S. partnerships with civil society and the private sector help advance our goals? Thank you.

MS. SCHRAYER: Gloria, that's got your name all over it.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR STEELE: As I said earlier, civil society plays a very important role in the work that we do, whether its economic environment, or even democracy itself. So civil society counterbalances whatever deficiencies there are in the private sector or in the government. They serve as watchdogs, they provide services that are not provided, but they protect human rights and they stand- they articulate the voice of the citizens and so they play a very important role. The private sector is a very important partner to us. They help promote innovation and creativity, productivity in the countries where we work, which fuels the economic growth in those countries and this is particularly important at this time.

So they are very important partners to us in the whole, in the work that we do, in development in general, and in promoting democracy, private sector, which is not obvious that they would be involved in democracy but they are not going to work in a country that is unstable. That is authoritarian, where rule of law is not working, where contracts are not enforced, and where there's corruption, outright corruption. So they too reinforce the importance of democracy and good governance in the countries where we work, they are very important partners.

MS. SCHRAYER: I would say and that last point goes back to something Congressman Price you said, where the priorities are, the business community really cares about this portfolio. I mean they care about all of them, but I hear that often, about weighing in on those earmarks.

Jackie [inaudible] from Alabama, I see your hands up next. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Liz. I have the honor of leading Global Ties Alabama, and we are especially thankful for our citizen diplomats who realize that every American has the responsibility and the right to help foster the foreign relations of our nation one handshake at a time. And so when we host international exchanges, it makes a huge difference in us putting our democratic values into action. So one of my chances, having been a corporate ethics officer is putting leadership values into action. Why is this important in supporting human rights and our democracy agenda? And I'm so thankful to Representative Price because he focused on agility and adaptability and Gloria talked about humility. There's a whole host of core values that really make a difference from a leadership standpoint.

MS. SCHRAYER: I’m going to take a couple and then you can pick which one you want so we'll get one of [inaudible] Richard [inaudible] I saw you were next from North Carolina. So remember, you got to raise your hand. We'll get as many of these as we can. We've got about 10 more minutes to take questions, so somebody will get values.

Richard. Richard [inaudible].

QUESTION: Our greatest strength of our country is our unique partnerships globally. It's kept us strong and it's kept a lot of other countries strong. Why is it so critical today that we engage in these relationships, and facing the biggest challenges from the pandemic to global security for those that are most vulnerable in other countries as well as our own citizens?

MS. SCHRAYER: So we can't do it alone.

I see Dana, Dana Tucker. You have to take yourself off mute.

There you go.

QUESTION: So kind of, one of the questions I heard earlier, Representative Roskum mentioned consistency and so on the theme of change and constancy, how do we build trust in the minds of partners and allies to show we've got an enduring mutual commitment, while also maintaining flexibility in foreign policy that changes in presidential leadership every four to eight years, required?

MS. SCHRAYER: So that trust given who we are.

Let me take one more. I see one of your constituents Congressman Price, Steve [inaudible], at least from the state. I don't know if he's actually your constituent.

QUESTION: Liz, you stated earlier about the number of democracies declining throughout the world over the last 15 years. And with respect to the recent events occurring in our country as well, are there any common themes among these various challenges throughout the world, to democracy that might guide us in bringing change?

MS. SCHRAYER: All right, I'm going to ask the three of you not to try to answer them all because there's about seven more and I'd love to try to get them in. So, Peter, what are you seeing about this last trend, this trend of kind of democracies or lack of democracies throughout the world?

FORMER CONGRESSMAN ROSKAM: It reminds me of that Bob Dylan song, A Slow Train Coming, because there has been this increasing inward turn in many countries around the world. It's happened in the United States, it manifested itself in the 2016 presidential debate when both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton said that they wanted to pull out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, which in my estimation was not a good idea and it created a vacuum for the Chinese to fill.

It's manifested itself with the Brexit move, it's manifested itself in other European countries that you've seen, so there's something culturally I think Liz that's going on, that is not uniquely American and that we're not, you know, immune to. But that said, I do think that some of these things come in seasons, and we're in a season where many countries are turning inward and becoming more mercantilistic, and so forth. And what we've got to do is win the argument and make the point, and that is, I mean that's at the heart of USGLC messaging and coalition building. That is, that there is an alignment of incentives and interests that creates the opportunity to be outward facing, and that there's something in it for the average American. I mean that's the whole USGLC mission. But that I think is at its core. This is new for us. This is new for us in our lifetimes arguably. To go back, I mean, there's an interesting book and I'll close with this. There's an interesting book called, Those Angry Days by Lynn Olson, and wow, is that a piece of work. Really, really frightening, the isolationist movement that it was a part of the Midwest, actually. And really, really tough times as a prelude to U.S. involvement in the Second World War. So this is new for me. I've been born in 1961, but it's not new for us as a country and we've got to sort through it and kind of rub some dirt on it.

MS. SCHRAYER: Congressman Price, this question of trust and partnerships, you know, that trusting us and this question about can we do it alone kind of feel like they go together. And then I’ll come back to you on values.

CONGRESSMAN PRICE: Yeah, so a lot of what's been said, does remind me of things we have we've thought about and I've told ourselves and trying to chart our course. And by the way, our Alabama friend, Congresswoman Terri Sewell is an enthusiastic HDP member. You can imagine how good she is at this, these interactions with our counterparts. Just a couple of quick things: the notion about civil society, and about constancy.

We are really mindful, I think it's fair to say, of the need for both to infuse our program. Peter alluded earlier to how many congressional delegations just give it a lick and a promise. You know they're in for one day, they meet with the President and the Prime Minister, and they're off to the next country. We have said for the beginning, we don't think any congressional delegation ought to operate like that for starters, but we're certainly not going to. And we say to our partners, if you're engaged with us, you're gonna have to put up with us pretty constantly. We intend to try to get to your country as often as we can. We intend to bring you and your staff members to our country. And this is going to be intensive but, you know, as these things go. The thing that helps us so much is when there's NDI and IRI there to make it even more intensive. Because as frequent as our visits might be, you know, having the work on the ground there by these NGOs, under USAID contract usually, that's just invaluable. I mean we give the effort a certain cachet and a certain fiery and from members. And then they're there on the ground, improving the day to day operations, and it does amount, I think, to a substantial engagement that it has, in a number of countries, has made a difference.

Secondly, we are the opposite of just limiting ourselves to, top, connections at the top. Yes we do engage with the speakers and the party leaders, and of course, we know that's important. But we're also all about constituency offices and I remember once, and we sometimes we'll come back to USAID and say, I remember in North Macedonia once we had these constituency offices that had been rather successful and enthusiastically received and USAID and was about to conclude the contract and we came back and said, “Please don't do that”. Don't stop too soon. Let's engage here, let's continue engaging, this takes some time.” And fortunately USAID and continue the support.

I remember in Buchanan, Liberia, a town meeting that we persuaded the local MPs to put on. They'd never had a town meeting in their whole careers. And so all these people, it was a great occasion, they came in early afternoon on a Sunday. Hundreds of people. And these MPs were getting peppered with questions they had never had to deal with and they kept trying to say oh no this is about our visitors. Please talk to our visitors, and we said no, it's about you. And so that was a new experience for them, but it certainly wasn't just us sitting around the table, talking about leadership. It was about encouraging and facilitating in this case, a kind of community engagement. And I do think that goes along with NDI and IRI’s work and civil society working with these groups or with parties and so on. I'm tooting our own horn here, but I did say that our approach to congressional travel and also our approach to legislative strengthening, is responsive to these values that people have properly raised.

MS. SCHRAYER: Gloria, I want you to touch on values, but there's a number of questions in the chat that I also want to draw in, and one of them is that USAID has emphasized this point that Congressman Price is just touching on, which is inclusive democracies and trying to deal with the inequities that are out there.

One of the areas that I know you've focused on is women as part of empowering them, as part of a group that has not always, sometimes been marginalized. So talk about how you bring in the values that have just, both of the two congressmen have talked about. How you deal with the marginalized communities, the inequities that are out there?

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR STEELE: Thank you. That's a really important question. The whole development assistance approach that we take is one that promotes inclusivity. It is not only a fair thing to do, but it also is important to achieve what we're trying to achieve. 50% of the global population is made up of women and to exclude half of the population that is involved in everything from the production to entrepreneurship, would not make any sense at all.

Also, inclusivity promotes diversity and diversity of ideas then promotes innovation, creativity, etc, and it is very important for the growth of a country, and for the economic growth of the country, and the negative part of it not being inclusive, creates disenfranchisement, creates, disgruntlement which then contributes to instability and conflict in countries. So it is a very, very important foundational part of the work we do, because it promotes development, but it's also the right thing to do. That's what we are about social justice, making sure everyone's voice is heard is what this is all about.

MS. SCHRAYER: Right. I'm going to apologize to the people in the chat and who raised their hand, that I don't have time for your final questions but I do want to ask a final, very quick question to our three amazing panelists, but you have sparked so much interest and energy into this. And here's my last, quick final question: is this a really hard issue? I can already tell how struggled we are at trying to figure out, how do we fix this, how do we fix the fact that COVID has made democracy even more difficult, and more challenging.

And my question is: Can you each pick one specific example from your travels, quick story, of where it's brought you hope to say you know what, this is where I know we can make a difference, we have seen, we can make a difference. And I know that once we get out there again, we're gonna make democracy, make a difference in the world. So, leave us with a moment of hope?

Gloria, you have traveled the world for 40 years. Where's your moment of brightness in this world?

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR STEELE: It is always in the people that we work with. Our support for civil society, I think, is what brings us hope that things will be better. It may take a long time to get there, but having people to take responsibility for their own development through civil society organizations has always resulted in something good for whatever purpose we're involving civil society.

MS. SCHRAYER: That’s great. Congressman Price?

CONGRESSMAN PRICE: Well, I could give you some seemingly mundane examples of parliamentary practice that have been made more professional and more effective. If you ask the Kenyans what our main effect was it probably would be on developing the budget process. If you ask the North Macedonians, it would be their constituency outreach. But I must say the highest impact work really done, and this is, well this is kind of a sad note to end on in a way because I don't know that it will ever continue. But I've never in my life had an experience to match our experience in Afghanistan. And that was not a country where this was supposed to work and in fact it didn't work very well in other warzone countries. We never did very well, honestly, in Iraq or Pakistan or, well Lebanon is a mixed case. But Afghanistan, it was just such an embrace. Every time we were there and whenever we could manage to get them here, and the women, especially, the women of that country, and what the stories they have. I remember seeing the three portraits on seats [inaudible] in their chamber once and asked what are these pictures doing here? These are three colleagues who were assassinated since the beginning of the session. And, and it wasn't just a good feeling, we really did engage. And last time we went though, David Dreier and I went on a very slim CODEL, lean and mean CODEL in around 2012, 2013, and we haven't been able to go back since.

We had the week before the curtain fell with the pandemic. I was going to go with some members [inaudible] we were gonna go in and hopefully renew this relationship. The Afghan parliament is an untold story as much as gone wrong there. There has been a hopefulness about at least certain aspects of that parliament. That, I think, I don't know, maybe the flame is about to be extinguished I certainly hope not.

MS. SCHRAYER: Hopefully you'll get back soon and can help them.

CONGRESSMAN PRICE: Hopefully we can but that would be my high point, I think just in terms of kind of heartbreaking in a way but it certainly left me with a strong impression that we need to somehow keep this going.

MS. SCHRAYER: I bet. Congressman Roskam?

FORMER CONGRESSMAN ROSKAM: David and I were on a trip down to South America. We stopped in Guatemala, and we visited Peru and Chile. Guatemala is, you know, it was really, really a tough place. And we were spending time with the Chileans, and we kind of pitched them, Liz, and we we asked the Chileans, and listen Chile's gone through a bumpy season since we were in the past few years, but we pitched them said look, would you be willing to play a leadership role and a mentoring role with Guatemalan parliamentarians. And they were pleased to be asked. And we weren't saying go in with a sharp elbow or impose on them, but it was an invitation basically. And there was a spark there and the Chilean parliamentarians, David will remember this, and they got it. They understood it, they understood sort of their unique role to be able to speak into that and to walk alongside the Guatemalans. Now we weren't able, for various reasons, it didn't come to fruition. But, that type of thing where other countries are stepping up and saying yeah we were a democracy, we're willing to take on this role and step into this, it goes back to Richard's observation earlier in the Q and A, trying to bring in, you know, partnering with others and you wouldn't think that partnering with the Chilean parliamentarians would be very intuitive, but it, there was something there so it's my hope that can be leveraged in the future.

MS. SCHRAYER: I love that. Well, everybody stand up, give a great applause. Congressman Roskam, Congressman Price, Acting Administrator Gloria Steele. We could go on and on, but this is such an important topic. I want to thank everybody on the call or state advisory committee members , our Veterans for Smart Power, our Next Generation, we are going to call on you over the next few months. Because together we have to make sure that we have the resources for these very, very important democracy and governance programs as well as all the rest very important programs that we didn't get a chance to talk about today, but are equally as important to combat the COVID response and the regular humanitarian and development and diplomacy programs. Thank you all for joining us. We'll follow you and see you on Twitter, social media, and emails galore. Everybody have a great day. Thank you. Thanks everybody.

Last updated: September 27, 2021

Share This Page