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Speeches & Testimony

America’s Global Leadership during COVID-19

Washington, April 28, 2020
Madam Speaker, as our country and world confront the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, some say, as a reason or excuse, that we should turn inward away from the rest of our world and to our own affairs.

But neither can nor should we disengage. Instead, I join many of my colleagues and our fellow citizens in stating clearly that there has never been a better time or greater need to embrace an across-the-board renewal of America’s global leadership.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently warned that COVID-19 poses the greatest challenge for our world since the Second World War. As this pandemic claims lives and cripples health care systems across the world, it also leaves in its wake the specter of a global recession without parallel in recent memory that will claim countless millions of jobs and livelihoods. The impacts of this pandemic will last years if not decades, and we will return to a world drastically changed.

This comparison of our present crisis to the Second World War reminds us of the extraordinary sacrifices Americans made then and must make now. Yet, just as the greatest generation fought to liberate Europe and the Pacific, so too must we commit to fighting this virus wherever it may emerge. The successors of American factories that assembled tanks and planes over 75 years ago must now build ventilators and medical supplies, not for ourselves alone but for any nation who shares our fight against this pandemic.

We are also reminded that the greatest generation, faced with a global economy ruined by war, chose not to celebrate victory in splendid isolation but did what no country had ever done before. That generation of Americans led the way in creating the United Nations and rebuilding the economies of friend and foe alike through the Marshall Plan, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. No one can deny the spirit of generosity and good will that motivated those actions, but it was also the practical self-interest of acknowledging that our own future lay in international engagement. Americans learned from the war that freedom, prosperity and peace go hand in hand and that, if we want to secure those blessings, we need to lead on the global stage. 

Today, those lessons still ring true. We know that a virus from one part of the world can swiftly spread, that a fragile state poses security challenges beyond its borders and that a slowdown in one economy can affect the entire global supply chain. So long as this pandemic persists in one country, we all are at risk, from a public health, economic, social, environmental and every other perspective.

That is why Congress appropriated almost two billion dollars for international assistance across two emergency relief measures. Our Department of State and USAID have pledged almost $500 million, with more on the way. American businesses, philanthropies and non-governmental organizations are contributing their assistance as well wherever possible.

These are important first steps, but our country can and must do more to lead a global effort against this pandemic. We must coordinate pathways for assistance from developed to developing countries to enhance the capacity of their health care systems to combat future waves of this pandemic. We must lead the way in bringing together the best and brightest around the world in fully understanding this virus and developing a vaccine. We must forge a path towards global economic recovery, restoring old supply chains and creating new ones, and leading our world economy to be stronger, more resilient and more just than it was before this crisis. Above all, we must lead in repairing the frayed fabric of global order, restoring trust in and commitment to our shared institutions among all countries.

Seventy-five years after the Second World War, let us recall the courage and sacrifice of the greatest generation. Let us find the realities and opportunities in this crippling pandemic and recommit ourselves and the United States to global leadership and to the values of freedom, prosperity and peace at home and abroad. And as we do so and overcome this pandemic, let us, the Americans of this age, with our bravery, generosity and greatness of spirit, prove to be as celebrated an example as that greatest generation to Americans of future eras.
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