President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised concerns among a number of top House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as the U.S. grapples with a rising death toll from COVID-19.
The administration announced the decision — slated to go into effect on July 6, 2021 — on Tuesday after months of slamming the WHO’s initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China.
Democrats argue that the decision could have a negative impact on the global response to COVID-19 as countries look to coordinate on a potential vaccine.
“The President’s official withdrawal of the U.S. from the World Health Organization is an act of true senselessness as @WHO coordinates the global fight against COVID-19. With millions of lives at risk, the President is crippling the international effort to defeat the virus,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel went so far as to allege the Trump administration is using the WHO as a scapegoat for the rising number of cases in the United States.
“Remaining in the WHO and exerting American leadership would boost international efforts to develop a vaccine and strengthen other countries’ health systems to better address future outbreaks,” he said in a statement.
“Deflecting blame onto the WHO won’t reverse the administration’s mistakes or undo the suffering our country has endured. The President needs to get serious about stopping this pandemic’s lethal spread by restoring our membership in the WHO, ramping up testing, and encouraging everyone to practice social distancing and wear masks,” he added.
Republicans have been vocal in their criticisms of the WHO and Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus over its handling of pandemic, saying they believe the organization has an alleged bias toward China and could have done more to prevent the virus’s spread in its early stages. But a number of GOP lawmakers said that despite these concerns they believe the country is better off remaining as a member.
“Director-General Tedros has failed in his duties as the head of the World Health Organization. Until Tedros is no longer the head of the WHO, I do not believe the United States should contribute any additional voluntary funds. While I join the president in his frustration with the WHO under Tedros’s leadership, I think we can affect more change within the organization as a member,” Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Tuesday.
“I hope the WHO understands the president means business and will immediately begin to make the necessary changes to restore trust in the organization’s ability to properly do its important job,” he added.
“Either WHO, with all the money that they have … they’re either either completely incompetent, politically motivated and controlled, or both. That came out of the task force report, and we know that from intelligence, and we know that from information that we’ve gleaned, and Chairman McCaul is exactly right,” Representatives Denver Riggleman, a member of the House GOP’s task force on China, said to the press.
“You know, on the flip side, though, being a former intelligence officer and knowing how information works, I would rather stay in the WHO and try to fix them from the inside rather than withdraw based on the amount of funds that we put into it, and I understand the frustration. I do. But I think withdrawing at this point actually takes away an opportunity for us to fundamentally change things and to identify that incompetence in the WHO,” he added.
While a number of Republicans have expressed reluctance, several GOP lawmakers said they support Trump’s decision.
“China violated international health regulations,” Representatives Jim Banks told reporters.
“Rather than hold them accountable, the WHO tried to cover it up. Now they’re caught, and President Trump is doing the right thing by removing our membership from a feckless international organization that sympathizes and is entangled with the CCP [Chinese Communist Party],” he added.
Representative Guy Reschenthaler noted that the United States is the WHO’s largest donor, adding that he believes the country has the option to reenter but that funding could be allocated to nonpolitical nongovernmental organizations that are working toward similar goals.
“We do know that the Chinese fail to report numbers. We do know that the Chinese are not handing over appropriate information, such as lab results. They’re not allowing access into the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and whatever access they are granting, it’s under CCP supervision, clearly to skew the story in the CCP’s favor,” he told the press.
“So we know that this is going on. They’ve done nothing to remedy, so we should take this drastic action because at the end of the day this money could be spent elsewhere, and frankly more efficiently,” he added.