House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says President Donald Trump’s decision to withhold funding to the World Health Organization is “illegal” and will be “swiftly challenged” by Democrats.
Trump announced Tuesday he intended to at least temporarily halt U.S. funding to the United Nations public health agency over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The president claimed the WHO promoted China’s “disinformation” about the severity of the outbreak, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
“The WHO failed in this basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump said.
The U.S. is the biggest overall donor to the Geneva-based global world health agency, contributing more than $400 million in 2019 ― about 15% of its budget ― according to Reuters. The money goes to public health programs throughout the world, from war-torn countries like Yemen to those dedicated to fighting Ebola.
Pelosi slammed Trump’s decision on Wednesday. She and other House Democratic leaders maintain Trump does not have unilateral authority to freeze congressionally appropriated funding to the WHO over a policy disagreement. They’re pointing to a similar decision from a federal watchdog that found that the Trump administration broke the law when it withheld assistance to Ukraine, which led to the president’s impeachment.
Trump’s targeting of the WHO, Pelosi charged, is an effort by him to shift blame for the rise of the deadly epidemic in the U.S., which has cost more than 25,000 lives so far.
“Sadly, as he has since Day One, the president is ignoring global health experts, disregarding science and undermining the heroes fighting on the frontline, at great risk to the lives and livelihoods of Americans and people around the world,” the speaker said in a statement. “This is another case, as I have said, of the President’s ineffective response, that ‘a weak person, a poor leader, takes no responsibility. A weak person blames others.’”
Beijing has been accused of understating the coronavirus epidemic by censoring and vastly undercounting its official death toll. The nation’s public figures alarmed the CIA in early February, which at that time warned the White House about understated infection numbers from China.
Republicans are demanding information from the WHO about its communications with Chinese officials, and they’re pushing to grill its leaders at a future congressional hearing.
Some Democrats acknowledge that the WHO could have handled the coronavirus outbreak better, but they maintain now is not the time to cripple the only agency in charge of public health on a global scale.
“It needs to be reformed. There are problems. It was too soft on China here,” Ron Klain, who oversaw the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola outbreak, said Wednesday in a Twitter conversation with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “But let’s be clear, the mess we have in America right now is not because of the WHO, it’s because of what Trump did with the information he was getting.”
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