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Trump Says He Will Halt WHO Funding, Pending Review

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President Trump speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
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President Trump says he will halt U.S. funding of the World Health Organization while his administration reviews the organization's handling of the coronavirus crisis. He said today at a briefing in the White House Rose Garden:

"Today I am instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization's role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus."

"As the organization's leading sponsor, the United States has a duty to insist on full accountability," he said. "One of the most dangerous and costly decisions from the WHO was its disastrous decision to oppose travel restrictions from China and other nations."

It's unclear whether the president has the authority to unilaterally halt funding for an international institution such as the WHO. Congressional Democrats have argued he doesn't.

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But The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the White House budget office has concluded Trump has several options to withhold the funds without congressional approval, including ordering agencies to reroute the money to other related purposes.

SHARP CRITICISM OF THE MOVE

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, criticized Trump's decision, saying "withholding funding for WHO in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century makes as much sense as cutting off ammunition to an ally as the enemy closes in."

Leahy criticized Trump for "not wanting to take responsibility as the deaths continue to mount," and added that while the "WHO should have been stricter with China and called for travel restrictions earlier ... it is performing essential functions and needs our strong support."

The president has been sharply critical of the WHO. In a press conference a week ago, Trump said the WHO was slow to respond to the crisis, and repeatedly said the organization has been "China-centric."

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"They could have called it months earlier," he said then. "They would have known and they should have known and they probably did not. So we'll be looking into that very carefully."

The WHO has opposed travel bans, primarily due to their resulting economic fallout.

U.S. IS BIGGEST FUNDER

The U.S. is the single largest contributor to the WHO. Its assessed contribution is 22% of the total members' assessed contributions, while China's is 12%.

The U.S. pays significantly more than the assessed contributions in additional voluntary contributions. That 22% assessed contribution has been stable for years, but the voluntary contributions have fluctuated depending on global health crises and U.S. political priorities.

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The WHO also receives funding from nonprofit organizations, foundations, companies, universities and governmental alliances. After the U.S., the next three largest WHO funders in 2018-2019 were the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gavi vaccine alliance, and the United Kingdom.

After Trump threatened last week to pull funding, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged world leaders not to politicize the pandemic, saying it would only result in "many more body bags."

"The focus of all political parties should be to save their people," Tedros said.

"No need to use COVID to score political points," he said. "You have many other ways to prove yourself."

This article originally appeared on NPR.org.

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LAist had been making the daily briefings available with this note: President Trump usually opens these news conferences with his own remarks. His comments in a number of past briefings have later been contradicted by information provided by other officials. He has also repeatedly used stigmatizing language to describe COVID-19. Following the president's remarks, health experts and other adminstration leaders provide additional updates.

We stopped streaming them this week after a contentious news conference that began with what was widely viewed as a campaign-style ad for Trump