The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Mid-Atlantic Conference brings together political, business and community leaders to talk about the nation’s place on the global stage and how the United States can work with foreign partners to improve economic and health outcomes around the world.
While the event has been typically held in Wilmington in recent years, the pandemic forced the 2020 iteration to go virtual.
Despite the online nature of the event, it’s Delaware connection was especially palpable this year as President-elect Joe Biden was meeting in downtown Wilmington with economic advisors as part of his work to transition into the White House. Biden, who spent years serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is expected to be much more engaged in global affairs compared to President Trump’s “America first” agenda.
“Our place in the world is weaker and is less sustainable today than it was four years ago,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware. He said the Trump administration’s isolationism “has really tested and challenged a lot of our key alliances.”
Cindy McCain, wife of Coons’ longtime Republican colleague, the late-Sen. John McCain, joined the Delaware senator for the conference’s keynote conversation. She said she’s hopeful a broader spirit of bipartisanship will take hold in Washington under Biden.
“Values-driven leadership is most important in this arena and something I think the world is looking to the United States to fill,” she said. McCain endorsed Biden in the presidential race, which could have helped the campaign narrowly flip her home state of Arizona from Trump to Biden after all the votes were tallied.
Coons said the U.S. has not been leading on the biggest issue facing the global community right now: COVID-19.
President Trump has failed to lead as a role model and has failed to spread reliable information that could reduce the spread of infection, Coons said. That “has marked us both internally and externally in a way that has genuinely harmed not just the American people but also our standing in the world.”
In what seems like a rare show of bipartisanship these days, Coons said he was able to spend time this weekend talking about advancing funding for vaccine production and global distribution with Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “Although we have vigorously opposed each other on the Judiciary Committee particularly over some nominations issues, [he] has been a tremendous partner,” Coons said. He added that other members of the GOP were able to challenge some of the administration’s foreign policy. “There are a few Republicans who resisted, effectively, President Trump’s attempt to slash foreign aid by one third,” he said.
One of the first steps for Biden should be “a dramatic shift” to rejoin the World Health Organization, which Coons said does need some reform, especially in light of news of an outbreak of coronavirus among staff at WHO headquarters in Geneva.
Coons said the U.S. should be part of the global vaccine development and delivery effort. “We must invest in a public health response globally that addresses equity and that demonstrates the sort of leadership in public health globally that we were well known for,” he said.
Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, a pediatrician from Rwanda who is vice chancellor at the University of Global Health Equity was happy to hear Coons’ suggestion that the U.S. would rejoin the WHO under President-elect Biden.
“I believe that your new president will do that because the world needs to be in synergy, the world needs solidarity to face such a tragedy,” she said. She said it’s vital the coordination of vaccine distribution be done in a globally cooperative way. If not, “we will not as a planet be rid of this pandemic on time. No country will be safe if one country is not safe,” she said.
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