Updated May 19, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump threatens to end WHO funding and withdraw U.S. membership

President Trump speaks at the White House on Monday. Photo: Doug Mills - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump tweeted a letter Monday night threatening to permanently cut off the World Health Organization's U.S. funding, accusing the WHO of "repeated missteps" during the pandemic and demanding it "demonstrate independence from China."

What he's saying: 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," Trump said in the letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"My administration has already started discussions with you on how to reform the organization. But action is needed quickly. We do not have time to waste ... 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."
— Excerpt from Trump's letter

By the numbers: The novel coronavirus death toll continues to rise along with the number of cases in the U.S. and across the world. COVID-19 has killed almost 319,000 people worldwide — including over 90,300 in the U.S., which has the world's highest death toll, per Johns Hopkins data.

  • More than 4.8 million people worldwide and 1.5 million in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus. Experts have cast doubt on China's official coronavirus statistics. The country has reported more than 84,000 infections and over 4,600 deaths as of Tuesday morning.

The big picture: Trump tweeted his letter the same day that all 194 WHO member states attended a virtual meeting of the World Health Assembly, where the World Health Organization agreed to a call from over 110 countries for an independent review of the global coronavirus response.

  • China backed the review, which won't examine the origins of the virus.
  • Trump declined an invitation to address the talks, per Axios' Jonathan Swan.
  • China's President Xi Jinping did address the meeting, where he pledged to donate $2 billion over the next two years to support COVID-19 response efforts — particularly in developing countries.
  • Trump announced last month that the U.S. was halting funding to the WHO for 60 to 90 days over its handling of the outbreak, pending a review.

Behind the scenes: Swan reported Sunday that following a trip to Camp David with close House Republican allies over the weekend, Trump was "leaning toward preserving his total funding cut" for the WHO.

Of note: Swan points out that House Democrats say Trump doesn't have the legal authority to unilaterally halt the WHO funding and that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has foreshadowed a challenge to 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," Swan notes.

Go deeper: Xi accepts, while Trump rejects, invite to address WHO

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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