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Sen. Coons on United States' global role amid pandemic: 'We've abdicated a fair amount'

Courtesy of the office of Sen. Chris Coons

Sen. Chris Coons is calling for the U.S. to re-engage in foreign affairs. He spoke at a summit hosted by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition Monday. 

The mid-Atlantic regional summit had a Delaware-heavy lineup; former governor Jack Markell and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester also spoke.

Coons said the U.S. had earned a position of global leadership on public health through its response to polio, HIV/AIDS, ebola, MERS and SARS. 

“We’ve abdicated a fair amount of that in this year,” he said. 

Coons said President Donald Trump’s “failed leadership” on the coronavirus has harmed the United States’ standing in the world.

“First we have to lead by example,” he said. “We have to get this pandemic under control by the United States. We hadover a million new cases in the last week.”

Many analysts have also cast the United States’ handling of the coronavirus as further eroding the country’s global leadership role. 

Analysts at the D.C.-based think tank Atlantic Council wrote in July that the coronavirus pandemic has “put US global leadership at stake.”

“Countries are waiting to see how quickly the United States moves past the crisis, whether it takes on the mantle of global leadership in response to the pandemic, and if authoritarian powers, particularly China, more effectively weather the storm,” they wrote. “The global order could, therefore, be fundamentally reshaped by the virus, especially if the world’s major economic powers—the United States, the European Union (EU), and China—suffer an extended economic depression and limit engagement beyond their borders.”

Coons said the United States’ current position is not just attributable to President Trump. 

“President Trump did not just appear out of nowhere,” Coons said. “The impacts of globalization, the ways in which 20 years of war in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, and the ways in which there have been real winners and losers as a result of the costs and strains of globalizations and the global war on terror, has produced folks in the Democratic and Republican parties who have a more populist and more isolationist view today than at any time in our lifetimes.”

Coons called for President-elect Joe Biden to rejoin the World Health Organization, which Trump announced the U.S. will leave effective next summer — and to formally collaborate with other countries on global vaccine distribution. 

“By getting our own house in order and engaging actively in a positive and engaging way with the world in our public health response, I think we can both turn the tide of this pandemic locally, and re-engage,” Coons said. 

Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester agreed with Coons. She added supporting emerging economies can be an opportunity for the U.S. to advance climate goals and promote national security. 

“It’s a win-win,” she said. “It’s our health, it’s the climate, it’s our economy, as well as our security. All of those are intertwined together, if we get back in the game—in the way that I believe we’re about to.”


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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