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Biden nominee Power moves toward confirmation to lead USAID

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WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) - Samantha Power, President Joe Biden's choice to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development, eased toward confirmation on Tuesday at a calm hearing where she described foreign aid as an essential tool in counteracting China.

"China is using its economic leverage and heft... often a predatory way, not only to change governing practices within countries but ... to water down international human rights commitments," Power told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"It warrants urgent, immediate and well-resourced attention," the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said.

In the first months of Biden's presidency, his fellow Democrats and Republicans have both taken a hard line on China, repeatedly calling it the biggest security threat to the United States.

Lawmakers from both parties brought up hot-button political issues, such as an increase in migration from Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Power backed restoring programs - suspended under former Republican President Donald Trump - seeking to improve conditions in the countries and make migration less appealing.

Biden has been criticized from the left and right since he took office in January for mixed messages about whether migrants would be sent home or allowed into the United States, which critics say is one reason for a surge in arrivals. read more

Power said she welcomed the restoration of funding for programs to alleviate the causes of migration, such as violence and corruption.

"I think that is the right approach. It will take us some time to ramp back up, unfortunately, because some of those programs were suspended, but the infrastructure is in place," Power said.

Trump's administration had tied Central American assistance to migration.

Senator Bob Menendez, the committee's Democratic chairman, said the panel would vote on Power's confirmation as soon as possible after the Senate returns in mid-April from its Easter recess.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle

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