WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has confirmed President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development after months of delay rooted in a separate dispute over the international nuclear deal with Iran.
Senators voted 79-7 Monday to confirm Gayle Smith to be administrator of USAID. Smith, the senior director for development and democracy at the White House's National Security Council, has had a diverse career working on humanitarian efforts in and out of government.
Smith's nomination was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July, but has been held up for months by Republicans controlling the chamber. Senators can place holds on administration nominees even after the relevant Senate committees responsible for the nominees' agencies have approved them.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, said over the summer that he would block any nominees for State Department positions to protest the Obama administration's nuclear agreement with Iran — and, as a consequence, USAID has been without a leader. Democrats have criticized the delay as the Syrian civil war forced hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee, leading to human suffering and threatening the U.S. and its allies.
"We are witnessing a humanitarian crisis in Syria that grows worse by the day," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said Monday on the Senate floor. "Having someone at the head of USAID is absolutely critical."
USAID, which works closely with the State Department, is the lead U.S. government agency fighting poverty and promoting democracy around the world. The agency also has come under scrutiny over its procurement practices as well as its risky undercover work in hostile countries.
Smith replaces former USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, who announced his resignation last year amid criticism over the agency's secretive programs in Cuba.