Did you know this presidential hopeful is a foreign aid supporter?

Republican presidential candidates John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul appear during Republican presidential debate at Milwaukee Theatre. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The topic of foreign aid isn’t figuring into the U.S. presidential election. Foreign policy discussions focus on defense and touch on diplomacy; development isn’t on the table. That makes it hard to know what each candidate would do about it in office.

We can look at Hillary Clinton’s record as the former secretary of state – United States Agency for International Development (USAID) falls under the purview of the State Department – for clues about her aid agenda. As for the rest of the field, we know very little about their foreign aid beliefs … with one major exception.

There is one candidate who has a strong record of supporting U.S. foreign aid and actively supports initiatives to improve it.

Can you guess who it is? This person said this back in 2012 in a speech at the International AIDS Conference:

“We don’t have a national debt because of foreign aid. If you zeroed out foreign aid it would do nothing for the debt, but would be devastating, not just to the world but to America’s role in it.”

Did you guess this guy?

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). (Gage Skidmore/flickr)

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. (Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr)

To the casual observer, foreign aid isn’t a concern for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. His campaign website frames his foreign policy objectives in terms of national defense. The priority he wants to project is “Build American Strength,” his campaign slogan. There is no mention of his thoughts on how foreign aid plays a role in U.S. foreign policy.

Even his legislative website downplays the fact that Rubio is the co-sponsor of two bills that would reform U.S. foreign aid. Press releases on from Rubio’s office will champion other legislative efforts and mark Polish Independence Day, but there is no mention about his foreign aid-related activities.

Rubio recently joined on for the Global Food Security Act and the Reach Every Mother and Child Act. These are bipartisan bills introduced in both chambers of Congress that seek to improve U.S. development initiatives. The bills seem to align with the statement made by Rubio at the AIDS conference. Both also focus on efforts that would improve maternal and child health.

The Global Food Security Act would do a few things with the U.S. agriculture and hunger programs. It provides long-lasting support for the Obama administration’s Feed the Future initiative, and emphasizes the need for a comprehensive strategy to address hunger, ranging from farming to nutrition, without touching on the controversial issue of food aid reform.

The Reach Act focuses on improving USAID accountability, reaching the most vulnerable, deploying proven solutions, and codifies a child and maternal survival coordinator. At no extra expense to the American taxpayer, the bill is about doing better and increasing accountability for maternal and child health related activities.

A common thread of accountability weaves through both bills. Congress takes on the oversight for global food security, through the proposed act. It requires transparent reporting and improves monitoring so that both Congress and taxpayers can see how money is spent and what it is accomplishing. There is also a shared push for evidence-based solutions in both acts – which is why there is not only bipartisan support, but the endorsement of the overwhelming majority of U.S.-based aid groups and NGOs.

“The Reach Act is the most critical and comprehensive piece of bipartisan legislation on maternal and child survival introduced in decades,” said Mary Pack, vice president of domestic and international affairs at International Medical Corps, in October. “Ending preventable child and maternal deaths, particularly in communities impacted by crises and disaster, is a priority for International Medical Corps, and we look forward to continuing to work with all Members to help move this important legislation forward.”

Supporting the bills is not likely to win Rubio any votes – which is likely why he doesn’t bother to promote that he is a co-sponsor. But it does indicate that the foreign aid community might have an unlikely ally if he wins the White House.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.

  • lstm1

    One of the most effective forms of foreign aid is trade. The fact that countries are able to trade freely with the US is essential to their development (and it benefits the US as well). One therefore can’t discuss foreign aid without also discussing trade. Unfortunately on this issue, candidates like Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are very poor.