President Donald Trump has threatened to permanently cut off U.S. funding of the World Health Organization, in a letter dated Monday that he shared on Twitter.
Trump said that if the WHO “does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization.”
Last month, Trump halted U.S. funding for the WHO as his administration conducted a review of the agency’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, the agency said “We are still in the acute phase of a pandemic so now is not the time to cut back on funding.”
It’s not immediately clear how Trump would withhold those funds, much of which are appropriated by Congress. The president typically does not have the authority to unilaterally redirect congressional funding.
The renewed threat comes as the Trump administration faces criticism for how it has handled the crisis. The United States is the worst hit country with more than 1.5 million coronavirus cases reported and at least 90,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
In the Monday letter, Trump said the review “confirmed many of the serious concerns I raised last month.” It also outlines what the White House perceived as “repeated missteps” by the organization and its director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The letter echoes Trump’s previous complaint that the WHO resisted issuing a travel advisory in the early days of the outbreak. When the agency declared the situation a global health emergency in late January, Tedros advised countries against imposing “measures that unnecessarily interfere with international trade or travel.”
Trump’s letter also repeats growing scrutiny over how the WHO handled information reported by China. The president previously accused the agency of being “China centric.”
“The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China … I cannot allow American taxpayer dollars to continue to finance an organization that, in its present state, is so clearly not serving America’s interests,” the letter said.
Trump himself faces scrutiny over misleading statements about the coronavirus as well as treatment and vaccine candidates. In January, he told CNBC’s Joe Kernen that he trusts the information coming out of China on the coronavirus. In February, Trump said the coronavirus was the Democrats’ “new hoax” intended to damage him and his administration.
Trump has repeatedly touted the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a “game-changer” in treating Covid-19. But the drug has serious side effects and a small study was halted for safety reasons after coronavirus patients developed arrhythmia from taking chloroquine. Nearly two dozen of those patients died.
On Monday, Trump said he had been taking hydroxychloroquine for over a week to prevent coronavirus infection, even though it is not yet a proven treatment. White House physician Dr. Sean Conley said in a memo that “the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.” The news came after a member of Trump’s staff tested positive for coronavirus.
The president also previously suggested testing “ultraviolet or just a very powerful light” or disinfectant “by injection,” comments he later claimed were sarcastic. Health officials and household disinfectant makers quickly urged Americans against injecting or consuming such products.