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House Democrats Launch Inquiry into Trump’s Decision to Halt WHO Funding

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Monday launched an inquiry into President Donald Trump’s decision to stop U.S. funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) while the world grapples with the novel coronavirus.

In a three-page letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, committee chairman Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) called the move counterproductive and said his panel was determined to unearth the administration’s reasoning for the decision.

“President Trump’s decision to halt funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) in the midst of a global pandemic is counterproductive and puts lives at risk,” Engel wrote. “Attacking the WHO, rather than the COVID-19 outbreak, will only worsen an already dire situation by undermining one of our key tools to fight the spreading disease. The Administration’s explanation for this decision is inadequate, and the Committee on Foreign Affairs is determined to understand the reasons behind this self-defeating withdrawal from global leadership.”

The administration last week announced a 60-day freeze on funding to the WHO as part of a wider strategy to shift blame for the pandemic to the global body, the Washington Post reported over the weekend.

According to the report, State Department officials have been instructed to strip WHO references from virus fact sheets as the U.S. attempts to reroute those funds to nongovernmental organizations involved in public health initiatives.

“At the U.N. Security Council, the Trump administration has delayed a resolution responding to the health crisis, which the French have been trying to advance for weeks, because it disagrees with draft language that expresses support for the WHO,” European officials told the Post.

In his letter, Engel concedes that the WHO is far from infallible, but said the organization’s efforts to stymie the spread of the virus have nonetheless been “invaluable”—particularly when compared to the Trump administration’s response, which he called “calamitous.” Engel cited the president’s policy of “denial, deflection, and delay.”

Engel said the panel wants to know the real reason for defunding the WHO, claiming the administration’s justifications thus far have been underwhelming.

“Diplomatic, development, and global health professionals have warned that cutting the WHO’s funding at this time will only hurt the global response and provide another opportunity for China to exert its influence. It was reported recently that State Department officials drafted a memo to you warning of our loss of influence,” the letter stated.

“The officials highlighted that the anti-WHO effort ‘will impact over $50 million in U.S. assistance planned to help host governments address urgent needs and risks undermining the U.S. narrative of a long-standing health leader, ceding ground to the [People’s Republic of China].’ But, to date, the Department of State’s justification for cutting WHO funding has come to the Congress in the form of a one-page talking points ‘fact sheet’ that contains few facts, no plan, and no explanation of how suspending funds for the WHO will save lives here at home or around the world.”

The letter then listed a series of documents pertaining to the administration’s decision-making process, setting a response deadline for May 4, 2020.

See below for the full letter.

Engel Inquiry Letter by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.