WASHINGTON - Congressional Democrats condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement he would halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) based on his belief the international organization failed to hold China accountable for the coronavirus crisis.
“This decision is dangerous, illegal and will be swiftly challenged,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday.
Pelosi and other Democrats have warned that defunding the United Nations agency responsible for international public health will cripple the international coordination necessary to combat the global pandemic.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, likened the move to “cutting off ammunition as the enemy closes in.” Leahy said the president’s criticism of WHO was an effort to distract from his own decision-making process as the virus spread across the world.
Trump charged that WHO was slow in recognizing the gravity of the pandemic and “pushed China’s misinformation” about the virus.
“Even after restricting flights from China which the President likes to brag about after praising China’s response, nearly half a million people entered the United States from China and the virus was also coming here from Europe and elsewhere,” Leahy said in a statement Tuesday. “Not wanting to take responsibility as the deaths continue to mount, he blames others.”
In a letter to the White House Tuesday night, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee detailed five instances, with the latest occurring on March 13th, in which President Trump praised China or Chinese President Xi for efforts to combat the coronavirus and share that information with the United States.
Trump said his administration would halt funding while conducting a 60 to 90 -day review of the WHO, redirecting those funds to other groups and countries.
“American taxpayers provide between 400 and 500 million dollars per year to the WHO, in contrast China contributes roughly $40 million a year and even less. As the organization's leading sponsor, the United States has a duty to insist on full accountability,” Trump said Tuesday.
The United States is the leading funder of the WHO, with $893 million in pledges in the two-year cycle from 2018 to 2019. Part of that funding is made up of assessments that are similar to membership fees, based on the size and wealth of member countries. The rest of the funding is allocated to specific programs. It’s not immediately clear how much control the U.S. Congress has over that funding.
Congressional Republicans have stepped up criticism of the WHO in recent days, arguing the organization helped the Chinese Communist Party cover up information concerning the threat posed by the coronavirus.
In an April 14 letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a group of seven Republican senators requested documents from WHO leadership on all of the data the agency had requested and received from China relating to the coronavirus.
Florida Senator Rick Scott – one of the signers of the letter – has called for a congressional investigation into the role China and the WHO played in informing the world about the threat of the coronavirus.
“When it comes to Coronavirus, the WHO failed. They need to be held accountable for their role in promoting misinformation and helping Communist China cover up a global pandemic,” Scott said in the March 31 statement. “We know Communist China is lying about how many cases and deaths they have, what they knew and when they knew it – and the WHO never bothered to investigate further. Their inaction cost lives. “
Trump’s Hill ally, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, praised the president’s decision in a tweet Wednesday, writing “The current WHO leadership has proven to be incompetent and shown overwhelming evidence of China bias. Cutting off funding to the WHO at this time is the right move.”
Democrats acknowledged the WHO has problems but have argued reforms should be sought instead of a stoppage of funding at a critical time.
“Structural changes are needed at the World Health Organization to prevent it from being exploited by China and other countries for misinformation, but the way to do that is through engagement based on American leadership,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said.