Admin officials say Trump has authority to halt WHO funds

After President Trump announced he would unilaterally pause funding to the World Health Organization, two senior administration officials asserted he had the authority to do so, even though the funding is appropriated by Congress. Critics of the president disagree. 

The administration is going through a 60-day review process to determine where to redirect the funding, the officials said, although they weren’t aware of any entity actively investigating the WHO itself. Mr. Trump said the funding would be halted pending a review of the institution. 

“Today, I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the WHO while a review is conducted to assess the WHO’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” the president said Tuesday night during his daily coronavirus briefing. 

The U.S. still owes roughly $65 million in WHO member contributions, after paying about $58 million of the roughly $122 million that has been assessed. There is also an additional $300 to $400 million that the U.S. voluntarily contributes to the WHO that isn’t earmarked by Congress, and the administration is looking for new partners on the ground to use that funding instead. 

The U.S. pays more into the WHO, which is a part of the United Nations, than any other country. Among other things, the WHO is tasked with preparing for pandemics and other health emergencies and advising on the response. 

FILE: World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva WHO

When presenting options to the president, the senior administration officials said that they told him he “100% has the authority to reprogram this money and to pause it right now to do that review” because the funding doesn’t have to be obligated until September 30. The senior administration officials said there isn’t any specificity that the money must go to the WHO, just that it must go to international organizations. 

“The fact that we were planning to spend $122 to the WHO isn’t binding on us,” one senior administration official said. “Congress’ statements notwithstanding, we don’t have to get their approval to change where we’re spending it….They put it as a broad bucket of money that gives the administration discretion on where to spend it.”

While the officials said they don’t need permission from Congress to reallocate the funds, they will comply with notification and reprogramming requirements.

The WHO is now assessing how its programs would be affected by any withdrawal of U.S. funds.

“The United States of America has been a long-standing and generous friend to the WHO and we hope it will continue to be so,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We regret the decision of the President of the United States to order a hold in funding to the World Health Organization.”

The president’s announcement has been lauded by some of his allies and condemned by his critics. 

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News,”[W]e need transparency, and we need the World Health Organization to do its job, to perform its primary function, which is to make sure that the world has accurate, timely, effective, real information about what’s going on in the global health space. And they didn’t get that done here.”

South Carolina GOP Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted, “Until WHO changes its behavior and leadership, I think it’s in America’s best interest to withhold funding. They’ve been deceptive, they’ve been slow, they’ve been Chinese apologists — and they’ve failed miserably when it comes to #COVID19.”

“The president’s halting of funding to the WHO as it leads the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic is senseless,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. We can only be successful in defeating this global pandemic through a coordinated international response with respect for science and data. But 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.”

“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,'” she continued. “This decision is dangerous, illegal and will be swiftly challenged.”

Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, said that the AMA was “deeply concerned” by the president’s decision and urged him to reconsider. 

“During the worst public health crisis in a century, halting funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) is a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier,” Harris said in a statement. “Fighting a global pandemic requires international cooperation and reliance on science and data. Cutting funding to the WHO – rather than focusing on solutions – is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world.”

After the president announced his decision, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced on Wednesday that it would give an additional $150 billion to the World Health Organization, bringing the foundation’s total contribution to over $250 billion.

“COVID-19 doesn’t obey border laws. Even if most countries succeed in slowing the disease over the next few months, the virus could return if the pandemic remains severe enough elsewhere,” foundation co-chair Bill Gates said in a statement.  “The world community must understand that so long as COVID-19 is somewhere, we need to act as if it were everywhere. Beating this pandemic will require an unprecedented level of international funding and cooperation.”

Kathryn Watson contributed to this report. 

Categories: National, US & World News

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