Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer are teaming up to fight a Trump administration plan to slash billions of dollars from the international aid budget, just as East Africa faces catastrophic famine and drought.
"This is not a bipartisan issue. This is a nonpartisan issue," said Emmer, a former conservative talk radio host who used to rail against sending U.S. dollars overseas rather than devoting them to needy Americans.
That opinion shifted, Emmer said, on his first congressional visit to Africa, where he saw how humanitarian aid not only saved lives but also thwarted terrorist groups like Al-Shabab, whose recruits are sometimes lured with the promise of food and propaganda suggesting that the United States doesn't care whether Africans live or die.
The lawmakers joined a roundtable discussion, hosted by the American Refugee Committee Thursday in Minneapolis, where community leaders and local nonprofits discussed the looming humanitarian crisis.
Drought and famine in the Horn of Africa hits painfully close to home in Minnesota, which boasts the nation's largest population of Somali-Americans.
Almost every family knows someone suffering, or worse. Wells are drying up. Livestock is dying. Disease is spreading. There are more and more malnourished children as drought-stricken Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Nigeria teeter on the brink of catastrophic famine.
"I have had the unfortunate experience of having to call a friend whose father actually died as a result of the drought," said Abdirizak Abdi, of the Minneapolis-based nonprofit Read Horn of Africa, who participated in the roundtable discussion.
Klobuchar and Emmer wrote President Donald Trump last week, asking him to reconsider his proposed $17.3 billion cut in funding to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. The pair have also joined forces to urge the administration to continue the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations that began during the Obama administration.
The cuts in diplomatic programs and foreign aid — as much as 31 percent of USAID's budget — have been proposed to offset a $54 billion increase in military spending and have drawn protests from a number of congressional Republicans, as well as Democrats.
"When you have a child dying because of a drought, I don't think they ask, 'Uh, could I have a Democrat help me?' or 'Could I have a Republican help me?' " Klobuchar said. "They just ask for help."