President Donald Trump announced on Friday that the United States will terminate its relationship with the World Health Organization, a move he has threatened throughout the coronavirus pandemic and one that earned quick criticism from both sides of the aisle.
“Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving, urgent global public health needs,” Trump said.
The President said that the “world needs answers from China on the virus. We must have transparency.”
At the same event on Friday, Trump launched a blistering attack on China, including a slew of retaliatory measures that will plunge US-China relations deeper into crisis.
Earlier in his remarks, Trump said that China had not properly reported information it had about the coronavirus to the World Health Organization and said China had pressured the WHO to “mislead the world.”
“Chinese officials ignored their reporting obligations to the World Health Organization and pressured the World Health Organization to mislead the world when the virus was first discovered by Chinese authorities,” Trump said. “Countless lives have been taken and profound economic hardship has been inflicted all around the globe.”
A WHO spokesperson told CNN Friday, “We have no comment to offer at this point.”
The President had previously announced a temporary halt of funding to the WHO and sent a letter to the agency earlier in May saying that the US would permanently pull funding if the WHO did not “commit to major substantive improvements in the next 30 days.”
In that letter, Trump included a false description of when information about the virus was published in The Lancet, prompting the prestigious medical journal to publicly dispute his claims.
Trump’s decision to permanently terminate the US relationship with the WHO follows a years-long pattern of skepticism of world organizations, with the President claiming in nearly every circumstance that the US was being taken advantage of.
The President has questioned US funding to the United Nations and the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization, withdrawn from the Paris climate accords and repeatedly criticized the World Trade Organization.
He’s also blamed China for taking advantage of the US, pointing the finger at the nation for taking US jobs and, now, failing to stop the spread of coronavirus into the US.
Meanwhile, Trump has mostly given himself and his administration rave reviews for its handling of the pandemic, despite Covid-19 testing fumbles and a national stockpile short on supplies when they were needed most.
The WHO has been criticized for relying on official Chinese government figures relating to the virus, numbers which many officials doubt are accurate. It also received criticism for a January 14 tweet noting that preliminary investigation by Chinese authorities had found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus.
Critics have also questioned whether the WHO is independent enough, given China’s rising wealth and power. They point to the WHO’s effusive praise of China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Organization officials have defended their early actions when it came to fighting the coronavirus, noting that much was unknown about the virus back in January.
The President has also said that if the WHO had acted appropriately, he could have instituted a travel ban on people coming from China sooner.
But health experts, US lawmakers and world leaders have expressed concern over defunding the organization amid a pandemic.
Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, assailed Trump’s announcement Friday as “senseless” with “significant, harmful repercussions.”
“COVID-19 affects us all and does not respect borders; defeating it requires the entire world working together,” Harris said in a statement. “In the strongest terms possible, the American Medical Association urges the President to reverse course and not abandon our country’s leadership position in the global fight against COVID-19.”
Trump’s announcement also received pushback within the Republican party. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said, “I disagree with the president’s decision.”
“Certainly there needs to be a good, hard look at mistakes the World Health Organization might have made in connection with coronavirus, but the time to do that is after the crisis has been dealt with, not in the middle of it,” Alexander said in a statement.
His comments were echoed by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative Democrat who has often shown a willingness to work with Trump and Republicans.
“The United States cannot eliminate this virus on our own and to withdraw from the World Health Organization — the world’s leading public health body — is nothing short of reckless,” Manchin said in a statement. “Throughout our nation’s history, the United States has always risen to lead the world through crisis and I believe we must continue to do that now.
“I strongly urge the President to reconsider this decision and I urge all my Congressional colleagues to speak out. It’s time for us to stand tall,” he continued.
In April, more than 1,000 organizations and individuals including charities, medical experts and health care companies from around the world signed a letter urging the Trump administration to reverse course and maintain funding.
And when Trump issued his letter in May, European leaders — including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — delivered messages of support for the WHO while speaking at the World Health Assembly.
“This pandemic has highlighted our vulnerability and made it clear that we need one another,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said. “That’s why more than ever we must be united.”
This story has been updated with additional developments and context.
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