WASHINGTON — Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered opening remarks at today’s full committee hearing titled “COVID-19 and International Pandemic Preparedness, Prevention, and Response: Additional Perspectives.”

“This pandemic presents one of the most complex and novel threats the United States — indeed the world — has faced in a generation,” Menendez said. “And it’s clear that even if we stop the spread of the disease here — which we certainly have not — without a serious global effort to understand and confront it, COVID-19 can and will return to our shores.”

“If ever there was a need for the United States to be an active leader in an international coalition to respond to a common threat, it is now. We simply cannot safeguard American lives without one,” added Menendez.

Last month, Menendez led the entire Democratic bench of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in introducing sweeping, comprehensive legislation to provide an additional $9 billion in funding to help support international efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 International Response and Recovery Act (CIRRA) is aimed at compelling the Trump Administration to constructively engage with other countries, international organizations, and multilateral fora to stop the spread of COVID-19, which will continue to exacerbate the United States’ public health and economic crisis without a coordinated global response.

Below are Ranking Member Menendez’s full remarks as delivered:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you for convening another hearing on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 26, 2020, the WHO had recorded just under 9.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 484,000 deaths worldwide. More than 2 million of those cases are right here in the United States. This disease has claimed more than 120,000 American lives in the span of five months. I know it well because unfortunately at least 14-15,000 of those were in my home state of New Jersey. And it has proven resilient and pernicious, with new spikes across the United States and China, and alarming increases in the number of cases in South Africa, India and Brazil.

This pandemic presents one of the most complex and novel threats the United States — indeed the world — has faced in several generations. And it’s clear that even if we stop the spread of the disease here — which we certainly have not — without a serious global effort to understand and confront it — COVID-19 can and will return to our shores. If ever there was a need for the United States to be an active leader in an international coalition to respond to a common threat, it is now. We simply cannot safeguard American lives without one.

Unfortunately, the United States has not yet risen to meet this challenge. We have seen a haphazard response, going so far as to effectively withdraw from the very international institution best poised to respond to this crisis. We have alienated critical partners, and have been absent at critical convening meetings. All this at the expense of the health and safety of the American people.

I believe there is more America can — and must — do, and that Congress has a critical role to play. In good faith as you referred to Mr. Chairman, in May, all the Democratic members of this Committee introduced comprehensive legislation laying out concrete actions the United States could take to lead in the global response. The COVID-19 International Response and Recovery Act, or CIRRA, presents a clear strategy to confront the ongoing pandemic and prepare the United States to deal with the next, and compels the Trump Administration to constructively engage with other countries, international organizations, and multilateral fora to stop the spread of this deadly pandemic.

Specifically, our bill authorizes:

  • An additional $9 billion in funding to fight the COVID-19 pandemic through contributions towards vaccine research at the Coalition for Preparedness and Innovations;
  • A contribution to the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for its COVID-19 response mechanism;
  • Additional funding for emergency overseas humanitarian assistance in response to the pandemic, ensuring that these funds are provided both to the UN for its global response plan as well as directly to NGOs working on the front-lines;
  • And a new surge financing authority at the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) that would allow the DFC to expedite decisions and make strategic investments quickly to aid in COVID-19 reconstruction efforts.

CIRRA also puts in place mechanisms to help us better prepare for the next pandemic. It requires an annual National Intelligence Estimate on pandemic threats, and establishes a White House advisor for global health security to coordinate a whole of government U.S. response to global health security emergencies, aimed at improving both domestic and international capacity to prevent, respond and detect epidemic and pandemic threats.

It clearly delineates the roles for the State Department, USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in responding to pandemic threats. And it directs the U.S. Executive Director to the World Bank to begin negotiations to establish a trust fund at the World Bank designed not to compete with or supplant the World Health Organization, but to work in tandem with the World Health Organization on incentivizing countries to mobilize their own resources for epidemic and pandemic preparedness.

Mr. Chairman, more than 700 Americans are dying each day. Neither the finger pointing blame game, race-baiting statements linked to the origins of the disease, nor a strategy centered on denial will win the battle against COVID-19. It is painfully apparent that Congress will have to lead in this effort, just as it led domestic relief and recovery efforts.

I enjoy and appreciate and embrace your call for us to develop a proposal in the Committee that boldly and robustly addresses the current crisis, ensures that we are adequately prepared for the next one, and aids countries around the globe with recovery. Anything less falls short of the legacy created through initiatives such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the Marshall Plan.

I welcome our witnesses as well, and look forward to our discussion.”

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