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Biden’s USAGM nominee Bennett wins Senate committee endorsement

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has endorsed President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), paving the way for former VOA director Amanda Bennett to face to a final confirmation vote in the Senate.

Juan Pachon, communications director for the committee’s Democratic Majority, told VOA that the committee approved Bennett’s nomination “en bloc” during a Thursday meeting on Capitol Hill, meaning she was one of the numerous nominees for government posts who have gained endorsement as a group. Pachon was answering a question from the VOA about the outcome of the meeting. USAGM is VOA’s parent agency.

Pachon said the endorsement of Bennett and five nominees for U.S. ambassadorship was part of a “broader deal” offered by Democratic committee chairman Bob Menendez.

“As a result, there was no recorded vote,” he said. Pachon did not say what the deal entails or when Bennett will have a final vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

With no Democratic senators publicly voicing their opposition to Bennett’s nomination, his confirmation seems likely.

Speaking to VOA outside the Capitol’s boardroom after the debates, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said he hadn’t heard Bennett’s name come up in the discussion of the various candidates.

Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, previously served as director of VOA from 2016 to 2020. She resigned from that position in June 2020, days before Michael Pack, appointed CEO of USAGM by the then president. , Donald Trump, does not take office after obtaining confirmation from the Senate.

When asked what he thought of Bennett’s nomination, Rubio said: “I had a few questions about how (VOA) handled the interview with the famous Chinese dissident while she was there. the first time. But ultimately, you know, she was part of There was no individual vote on her nomination, so she passed,” he said.

Rubio was referring to Bennett’s decision in 2017 to cut short a scheduled three-hour live interview by VOA’s Mandarin Service with exiled Chinese billionaire and prominent Beijing critic Guo Wengui, and fire the head of the Mandarin Service from at the time, Sasha Gong, and other staff members who defied the instructions. regarding the duration and course of the interview.

Bennett’s critics accused her of succumbing to pressure from the Chinese government to silence Guo. But VOA’s public relations office said third-party reviews of the incident “concluded that the decision to cut the live interview short was based solely on and consistent with journalistic best practices.”

FILE – The logo of the US Agency for Global Media at Voice of America in Washington, DC on November 22, 2019. (VOA)

Responding to a question about Bennett’s prospects of being confirmed by the full Senate, Rubio said, “Any (senator) can nominate any candidate for any reason.” I don’t know if she will get an individual vote or if she will be part of a package (vote) just before summer vacation.

The congress will be suspended from August 8 to September 8. 6.

Pachon did not respond to a VOA request for comment from Menendez about Bennett getting a favorable recommendation from the Senate committee.

The White House cited Bennett’s long career in US media and four years as VOA executive when it nominated her for the USAGM role last November. She was editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News and editor-in-chief of The Oregonian newspaper. She was also a journalist for The Wall Street Journal for more than two decades, including in Beijing.

After Bennett stepped down as director of VOA in June 2020, Pack named Robert Reilly in December 2020 to succeed him. Minutes after Biden was sworn in as president on January 20, 2021, he requested and received Pack’s resignation and appointed Kelu Chao, then VOA’s programming director, as USAGM’s interim CEO. . Chao retired Reilly as VOA manager a day later.

Bennett has come under fire from some Republicans since her June 7 confirmation hearing, when she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she would advance USAGM’s mission of objectivity and balanced reporting at a time when misinformation is on the rise around the world.

America First Legal Foundation, a center-right nonprofit founded by former top Trump administration officials, sent a letter to Biden on Thursday asking him to withdraw Bennett’s nomination, citing allegations of “national security and related failures” when she was director of VOA.

The group’s chief complaint is that Bennett ran USAGM’s largest network, VOA, at a time when other departments were warning USAGM leaders about “gaps” in security clearances for employees of the agency, some occupying sensitive positions. A July 2020 report from the Office of Personnel Management found that 1,527 USAGM employees, or about 40% of the total workforce, had been improperly screened in the previous 10 years, prompting the OPM to revoke USAGM’s authority to conduct its own employee background investigations.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chief Republican Michael McCaul said he believed Bennett did not face a “robust” round of questioning during the June 7 hearing and said sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee two days later urging it to subject Bennett to further scrutiny. He cited allegations that the former VOA director mismanaged public funds and personnel, and oversaw security breaches, biased media coverage and poor morale.

“I have serious concerns about the appointment of Amanda Bennett as CEO of USAGM,” McCaul told VOA via email earlier this month. “At a time when we face existential threats from disinformation and the silencing of objective journalism in China, Russia and around the world, it is imperative that we have an impartial and competent leader at the helm of USAGM. “

McCaul was a strong supporter of USAGM’s mission and criticized Pack during his tenure as CEO of the agency.

Bennett and USAGM did not immediately respond to VOA’s requests for comment on American First Legal’s appeal asking that his nomination be withdrawn.

US Ambassador Karen Kornbluh, a former USAGM board member, told VOA earlier this month that Bennett’s media experience and knowledge of USAGM as a former director of VOA make her a strong candidate for the position of CEO of the agency. She said Bennett could set “the standard for everyone who follows.”

“His leadership is essential at a time of resurgence of authoritarianism around the world – to ensure that people living under repressive regimes not only have access to accurate information, but can also see models of excellent journalism in practice. “said Kornbluh.

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