May 17, 2020 - Health

Scoop: Trump leans toward keeping total cut to WHO funding

Illustration of Trump with cash and WHO symbol
Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

President Trump is leaning toward preserving his total funding cut for the World Health Organization after being on the brink of announcing he'd restore partial funding, according to three sources familiar with the situation. A fourth source, a senior administration official, cautioned that the decision-making was fluid and was still subject to change.

Behind the scenes: Trump spent his weekend at Camp David with some of his closest Republican allies in the House of Representatives. A source familiar with the private discussions said that House members at Camp David pressed Trump "to not give a dime to WHO."

  • A second source familiar with the situation at Camp David qualified the first source's remarks by saying, "That's where the president's head is at as well. So it was more reaffirming his position."

The big picture: Last month, Trump shocked the world by announcing he was freezing U.S. funding to the WHO, pending an investigation into the global health agency and its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has eviscerated the organization, describing it as controlled by China and grossly negligent in the early days of the outbreak. He has also used the issue to deflect from criticisms of his own handling of the virus.

  • House Democrats argue that Trump doesn't have the legal authority to unilaterally halt the WHO funding. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has foreshadowed that she'll challenge the decision.
  • The Trump administration counters that there is no explicit language in Congress' spending bills that forces them to give money to the WHO.

Between the lines: Until late last week, Trump was planning to announce that the U.S. would restore partial funding to the WHO. He was amenable to the idea of keeping a small amount of funding — around 10% of the U.S.' current roughly $400 million annual spend — so the U.S. could keep an eye on the organization.

  • But on Friday night, Fox News' Tucker Carlson produced a leaked document that altered the decision-making process. Carlson broke the news that the Trump administration was "on the brink of resuming U.S. funding of the World Health Organization."
  • Carlson aired a draft letter that said despite the WHO's "shortcomings," Trump wanted to see the organization live up to its potential "during this global crisis."
  • The draft letter went on to say that Trump had decided to "work with the WHO and agree to pay up to what China pays in assessed contributions."
  • Carlson, who is one of Trump's favorite TV hosts, trashed the WHO and the idea of giving any money to it. Another of Trump's favorite hosts, Fox Business' Lou Dobbs, followed by tweeting the Carlson story and blaming Trump's advisers for the decision.
  • In a Saturday tweet responding to Dobbs, Trump seemed to signal he was shifting his position: "Lou, this is just one of numerous concepts being considered under which we would pay 10% of what we have been paying over many years, matching much lower China payments. Have not made final decision. All funds are frozen. Thanks!"
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