Administrator Samantha Power’s Interview on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes

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Wednesday, May 4, 2022

CHRIS HAYES: It's important to note that if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, rolls back abortion rights in this country, the U.S. would join a very small group of countries going the wrong way on abortion rights. In fact, only three countries have done so since 1994 -- Poland, El Salvador and Nicaragua. In that period 59 countries have expanded access, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Last fall, New York Times reporter and columnist Max Fisher warned that the overturning of Roe would be just the beginning since curbs on women's rights tend to accelerate in backsliding democracies, a category that includes the United States, according to virtually every independent metric and watchdog.

Samantha Power is the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, served as the Ambassador to the UN under President Obama. She’s made trips to the region around Ukraine, most recently Slovakia and Moldova this Spring. And she joins me now.

It’s great to have you on, I want to ask first about just the U.S. image abroad, particularly as you're engaged in aid efforts and diplomacy efforts around the war that’s happening in Eastern Europe and the degree to which perceptions of American democratic vibrancy matter. Whether there’s a certain degree to which people are looking across the ocean and kind of wondering where is this country at and what does it mean to be an interlocutor with you, with this country that seems to be in a bit of a democratic crisis?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, Chris, first just let me just say how disturbed and alarmed I am personally about what we have seen over the last day or two and what it might portend. On your question, when I was UN Ambassador, I actually saw some of the positive of this. When Obamacare passed and Americans established the right to healthcare for the first time, there was a sense of, ok, America is joining countries that have been pushing for social and economic health rights and welfare for a long time and now can even be in the vanguard of that at the UN and beyond.

Where we see setbacks on women’s rights, on women’s empowerment, of course that’s going to affect how people hear us as we talk about women’s empowerment, whether we talk about economic empowerment or personal empowerment abroad. It has a major impact. The amount of scrutiny, interest, curiosity, love-hate relationship, right, with everything that goes on inside our country, there is just no country on earth that is watched as much as this one. Again, I had the positive experience as we recognized same sex marriage, that became a source of great inspiration to LGBTQ rights activists around the world and was something that we were able to push from the United Nations to expand the rights of people who didn’t have laws that were as friendly to LGBTQ people as ours were becoming. Something like this? I can’t even imagine what it will do, again, to our support for women and human rights, generally, around the world.

HAYES: You’ve been visiting the region, you were just in Slovakia and Moldova, I believe last month. Of course, there’s an enormous humanitarian need in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There’s a proposal for a $33 billion aid package that is coming from the White House. I think it’s expected to pass, but that’s a lot of money, and I do hear people say sometimes about foreign aid, even in this case where I think people support the Ukrainian cause say, “that’s a lot of money, we have problems here.” As someone who would be seeing firsthand and overseeing some of the distribution of that, what do you say to those folks who are skeptical?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, first let me say how heartening it is to see so little skepticism about whether this cause is worth it. I mean, I do think there aren’t that many issues that people agree upon up on Capitol Hill. I had a long briefing today with a bipartisan group of Senators who were very much immersed in the details of where food assistance is going, which non-governmental organizations we should be funding, frustration that it wasn’t moving more quickly, a frustration that I share. This is really galvanizing a degree of unity for now up on Capitol Hill, that’s heartening and that I think is reflected in communities around America. Now, as it recedes from the headlines as compassion fatigue sets in, as it has in so many conflicts in the past, maybe that will become a harder sell. But for right now, I think people see that the battle between democracy and authoritarianism has lived on the frontlines in Ukraine. That when a country is gratuitously invaded and bombarded and pulverized, where starvation is used as a weapon of war, that is something that taps into the best I think of the American tradition. Whether that’s the Marshall Plan and nostalgia, and a very positive memory of something like that, or even WWII itself. Of coming to Europe’s rescue and standing up to fascism. So I think there are historical cords here that have been pressed and are resonating in ways that so far again, as you said, is bringing about quite a positive reception to this request.

HAYES: It was about I think six weeks ago when people started to look at grain production and food exports from both Ukraine and Russia and the centrality they play in the diets of people around the world, particularly in Africa but in other places as well, and started to get real worried. Where are we, with sort of “10” being the worst case scenario in terms of that particular aspect, and “1” being like, it’s not a problem. Where are we right now on that? How has that developed?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I think we have even more insight into the degree of dependence on Ukrainian wheat. So to give you one statistic to share that I think kind of brings it home, apparently one out of roughly every two or three pieces of bread in sub-Saharan Africa is made with Ukrainian wheat. And to be very clear, I think maybe when you and I last spoke, we were very focused on planting of crops, harvesting, the bombardment, what would it mean for Ukrainians ability to sow their harvest and to reap that harvest. Now we are very, very focused on actually Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea and of Ukrainian ports. Because the truth is the Ukrainians have been heroic, they’re out there in their flak jackets with their demining equipment, they’re actually bringing the harvest in, there will be a little reduction but not nearly as severe as we had thought. But getting it out of Ukraine, at scale, and out to developing countries that are so vulnerable is our biggest challenge right now. So more pressure on Russia to open up those ports, none of that pressure has paid off so far. Pressure by African countries, that’s going to be important. We have drawn down something called the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust with USDA, our agriculture colleagues to bring food commodities on to the market. This supplemental request asks for an additional $3 billion in humanitarian assistance, that’s going to be incredibly important, and USAID is working in 80 developing countries, many in sub-Saharan Africa, to think about how they can draw on for example, organic fertilizer so as not to have to rely on Russian fertilizer, which of course is now limited in the export market.

MR HAYES: That’s a very clarifying answer. I thank you for your time Samantha Power, thank you very much.

Last updated: May 20, 2022

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