Trump Halts WHO Funding Amidst Criticism of His Own Coronavirus Response
In a move roundly decried by public health experts, President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he would halt U.S. funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) as his administration investigates the international body's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump claimed the agency trusted the information coming out of China in the early days of the outbreak too easily, but his actions come as he tries to deflect criticism of his own response to the pandemic that has sickened more than 600,000 in the U.S. and claimed nearly 25,000 U.S. lives. His announcement also follows a weekend that saw the U.S. death toll rise to become the highest in the world, as well as the release of a major New York Times investigation revealing Trump implemented social distancing measures weeks after his own health experts thought they were necessary. More Americans now disapprove of Trump's handling of the virus than approve, The New York Times pointed out.
"It is a transparent attempt to shift blame for the U.S. administration's own failings," Center for Global Development senior policy fellow and former U.S. Agency for International Development disaster relief head Jeremy Konyndyk told Science of Trump's decision to pause funding. He also said the freeze "leaves the U.S. and the world less safe."
President @realDonaldTrump is halting funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to asses… https://t.co/tbxfP81TuT— The White House (@The White House)1586904611.0
During a White House press briefing Tuesday, Trump claimed that WHO's early missteps had proven fatal.
"So much death has been caused by their mistakes," the president told reporters.
One of his major criticisms is that the agency accepted Chinese accounts of the virus too readily. But The New York Times pointed out that Trump himself praised the Chinese response in January while he was negotiating a trade deal with the country.
"China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency," he tweeted Jan. 24. "It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!'
China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts an… https://t.co/Gv3NQQlQCh— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1579900695.0
Other countries have raised concerns about the speed with which WHO responded to the virus. For example, the agency did accept the news from China in mid-January that the virus did not pass from person to person. But it also gave out warnings during that month about the new illness.
A senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, Dr. Amesh Adalja, told Reuters that while WHO may have made some errors, it still was doing vital work to control the spread of the new disease.
"It's not the middle of a pandemic that you do this type of thing," he said.
Even other members of the administration agree. Trump made his announcement despite the opposition of top health officials, who were concerned it would hamper international efforts to fight the virus that causes COVID-19., an anonymous official told Reuters.
The U.S. is the country that contributes most to WHO. In 2019, it gave more than $400 million, around 15 percent of the agency's budget. Its funding pause comes as the agency is appealing for more than a billion in extra funds to fight the virus.
Trump said he expects his review to take 60 to 90 days, but it comes as WHO is working to fight the virus in less developed countries who are less prepared to cope with its spread. On Tuesday, the first WHO "solidarity flight" took off from Ethiopia carrying essential health supplies to African countries, Science pointed out.
"WHO is in the middle of supporting global surveillance efforts and scale-up of testing and response in low- and middle-income countries around the world," Georgetown University global health researcher Matthew Kavanaugh told Science. "Hobbling that response is not just unjust, it's incredibly bad for U.S. public health at a moment when we have all learned painfully how easily this virus moves from abroad to U.S. shores."
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Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.