Trump escalates tension with World Health Organization over coronavirus pandemic, repeats threat to withhold funding

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U.S. President Donald Trump escalated tension with the World Health Organization on Wednesday, once again criticizing the agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and threatening to withhold funding.

“So we’re going to do a study, an investigation, and we’re going to make a determination as to what we’re doing. In the meantime, we’re holding back,” Trump said at a White House press conference Wednesday. It was not immediately clear from the president’s comment if he was “holding back” on the funding or probe of the WHO.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration is reevaluating the WHO’s funding, adding that the United Nation’s health organization hasn’t “achieved what it intended to do,” particularly in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Organizations have to work. They have to deliver the outcomes for which they were intended,” Pompeo said. “We need to make sure that, not only the World Health Organization but every international organization that we take taxpayer money and give it to them for the benefit of America, we need to make sure it’s delivering on those tax payer dollars.”

Trump first said he was thinking about withholding funds to the WHO on Tuesday, saying the international agency pushed back on his travel ban from China early in the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s unclear how Trump would do this, however. Congress has already authorized $122 million for the WHO for this fiscal year, and while Trump has proposed $58 million in funding for the agency in fiscal 2021, Congress is unlikely to authorize such a drastic funding cut, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

The WHO “really called, I would say, every aspect of it wrong,” Trump said.

Trump complained Wednesday that China contributes “a small fraction” of the amount of funding the U.S. sends to the WHO every year. “And i think they have to get their priorities right, and their priorities are that every country has to be treated properly. Every country. And it doesn’t seem that way, does it?” he said. 

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during his coronavirus task force briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on April 08, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

When asked whether WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus should resign, Pompeo said now “is not the time to be doing that kind of change.”

In response to a question about Trump’s threat earlier Wednesday, Tedros warned global leaders against politicizing the COVID-19 outbreak “if you don’t want to have many more body bags.”

Tedros said the focus of all political parties should be to work together to save their people. 

Without unity, even more developed nations will face “more trouble and more crisis,” Tedros said. “No need to use COVID to score political points. No need. You have many other ways to prove yourselves.”

Trump responded: “I can’t believe he’s talking about politics when look at the relationship they have to China. So China spends $42 million and we spend $450 million and everything seems to be China’s way.”

CNBC’s Tucker Higgins contributed to this article.

Source: CNBC

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