Trump taps new Western Hemisphere chief

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What happened: The White House has tapped Josh Hodges to be the top official focusing on the Americas at the National Security Council, according to a Trump administration official familiar with his hiring.

Hodges, 37, was most recently the senior deputy assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development. He started last week as the senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs on the NSC staff and a special assistant to the president. He replaces Mauricio Claver-Carone, who last month was elected president of the Inter-American Development Bank, the first American to hold the position. Claver-Carone left the NSC on Sept. 30 and started in his new job in early October.

The administration official called Hodges “a protégé” of Claver Carone and said he was “well respected across the White House and interagency.”

“Josh was a wonderful colleague who spearheaded USAID’s efforts in support of our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean during the pandemic,” Claver-Carone said in a statement. “He will be key to expanding those efforts once a vaccine becomes available, and I look forward to working with him in his new capacity.”

The background: Hodges, the child of missionary parents, grew up in a number of cities in Mexico and speaks Spanish with a deep Mexican accent. He didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In his USAID job, Hodges worked to support the region with assistance to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and giving it protective gear. He also played a big role in USAID’s ventilator donations, half of which went to Latin America. He was heavily engaged in issues involving Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Before joining USAID, Hodges worked at the NSC, where he was deputy senior director for information statecraft and a director in the strategic communications directorate, and worked closely with Claver-Carone. His first job in the Trump administration was as director of congressional affairs at the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Hodges previously worked on Capitol Hill on a number of Senate committees and in the House of Representatives as a legislative director.

Of the 18 directorates at the NSC, only the Western Hemisphere Affairs directorate, which is made up of 5 career directors and a special assistant, did not get cut during national security adviser Robert O’Brien’s downsizing of the NSC; it actually gained a spot.

What’s next: In his new role, Hodges is expected to focus on Venezuela, pandemic response, the upcoming elections in Bolivia, and América Crece, the U.S. government’s regional economic growth initiative in the Americas, which is aimed at countering China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Canada is also in his portfolio.

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