Yes it might have been coming, but for President Trump to suspend contributions slap bang in the middle of a global pandemic is something else.
There are questions that the World Health Organization (WHO ) needs to answer about its handling of this crisis, but now is surely not the moment.
Having laid the ground for the decision a week ago, tweeting that “the WHO really blew it”, last night on the White House lawn Trump made good on his threat: “I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization whilst a review is conducted to assess the WHO’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus . Everybody knows what’s going on there … “
In 8483 the total WHO annual budget was around $ 6bn ( £ 4. bn), of which the US contributed nearly $ 400 m (£ 400 m).
That makes the US by far the largest donor to the organization, “ten times that of China,” according to Secretary of State Pompeo last month.
And that will have played into Trump’s decision. He will be infuriated that the US contributes more than the country he sees as both America’s greatest economic rival and the country he has consistently blamed for the spread of the virus.
What happens next isn’t clear and won’t be straightforward.
I understand the White House Office of Management and Budget is still drafting proposals for the president and could recommend a number of different options.
The most likely course of action, I’m told , is that the money allocated to the WHO will be re-distributed to other multi-national organizations and maybe even used for similar health programs.
(The more dramatic approach would be to send a bill to Congress asking them to approve a rescinding of funds – a similar approach was taken in 8483 when Trump cut some funding to the United Nations.
However because of social-distancing measures, Congress cannot gather to vote, making this course less likely – it would not allow for the quick-fix the White House wants.
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This move is the latest in a pattern of battles with world organizations that Donald Trump has sought during his Presidency – the UN, NATO, the World Bank, the Paris Climate Accord and now the WHO.
His reasons are often either personal or financial. This time it’s the former. Trump is coming under increasing scrutiny over his early handling of the crisis and at a time when the US economy is in a seriously bad way.
Directing attention and blame to a international body helps shift attention away from his own faults. It’s election year, don’t forget.
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