The WHO is The Worst Scapegoat Trump Could Have Chosen
President Trump announced that he intended to stop funding to the WHO, but doing so could be worse than the disease.
President Trump announced yesterday that he intended to stop funding to the World Health Organization in retaliation for what he named as poor management and advice on the coronavirus pandemic, bringing thousands of deaths as a result.
In doing so, Trump again contradicted himself, after weeks of praising the WHO's action, and exposed another maneuver to divert attention from his management of the pandemic. Although Trump closed the borders to China early, on January 31, he failed to take advantage of the window of time that was opened by this measure - which the WHO advises against on principle, since it tends to generate fear and does not stop the spread of diseases.
The United States is one of the main donors to the WHO, having contributed almost $553 million to the organization's last biannual budget - which is close to $6 trillion - so the withdrawal of its support would imply a very hard blow not only to the WHO's capacity to react to the COVID-19 pandemic but also to other problems it deals with, such as the new Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which occurs simultaneously with COVID-19.
Immediately, the responses of both national and international leaders were noted, from Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General, to Bill Gates and organizations such as the Center for American Progress.
Far from offloading Trump's responsibility in his management of the emergency, defunding the WHO may leave us feeling the brunt of the virus even after the worst of the crisis has passed in the United States: since viruses know no borders, the only way to ensure the country's safety is to seek containment of the pandemic around the globe; until that happens, we will continue to have outbreaks of greater or lesser intensity.
At this point, it is not clear what mechanism Trump would use to stop the flow of funding. One option is for him to invoke the Congressional Budget and Finance Control Act of 1974. Through this act, Trump could ask Congress to reallocate this year's WHO budget, but both the Senate and the House would have to approve such a reallocation within 45 days. Neither chamber is required to vote, so they could simply ignore the request.
Another possibility would be to use the powers granted to him as president by the Constitution and denounce the treaty that binds the United States to the World Health Organization. This mechanism would allow him to bypass Congress, but it would surely bring an enormous political cost associated with it at both the national and diplomatic levels.