President Trump said Tuesday that he would consider placing a hold on funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), expressing grievances with its handling of the novel coronavirus.
“They missed the call. They could have called it months earlier. They would have known, and they should have known, and they probably did know,” Trump told reporters at a White House press briefing, suggesting the WHO failed to sufficiently warn the global community about the virus.
“We’re going to be looking into that very carefully, and we’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO,” Trump continued. “We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it, and we’re going to see. It’s a great thing if it works, but when they call every shot wrong, that’s not good.”
Pressed later by a reporter on whether it was a good idea to put a hold on funding during a global pandemic, the president clarified that he was considering suspending funding to the WHO.
“I’m not going to say I’m going to do it,” Trump said. “We will look at ending funding.”
The United States is the largest contributor to the WHO’s budget. The president’s fiscal 2021 budget request proposed slashing funding to the WHO, a body of the United Nations responsible for international public health, from $122 million to about $58 million.
The president said the WHO seemed to be “very biased towards China” and accused the organization of disagreeing with his travel restriction on flights coming in from China. He suggested the organization was blind to the extent of the outbreak in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, where the virus originated.
The WHO said in early February that widespread travel bans that interfere with international travel and trade were not necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, days after the Trump administration announced it would restrict travel coming into the U.S. from China. It did not take particular issue with the president’s travel restriction.
“They actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban at the time I did it, and they were wrong. They’ve been wrong about a lot of things. They had a lot of information early, and they didn’t — they seemed to be very China-centric. We have to look into it,” Trump told reporters.
When a reporter asked Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to answer a question on the WHO, Trump interjected before he answered, saying Fauci “respects the WHO, and I think that’s good.”
“But they did give us some pretty bad play-calling,” Trump said.
The remarks, expanding on a critical tweet he sent earlier Tuesday, come amid growing criticism among conservatives of the WHO’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Some have accused the organization of leaving other nations unprepared for the virus.
Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) last week called on WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to resign, after reports emerged that the U.S. intelligence community had concluded China underreported its count of coronavirus cases. McSally accused the WHO of helping China conceal the extent of the outbreak.
Trump has faced criticism for at first downplaying the threat from the coronavirus, and his administration has been scrutinized for early delays in testing that hampered the overall response. Trump has often pointed to his early action restricting travel from China as a sign his administration was quick to confront the outbreak.
Ezekiel Emanuel, a special adviser to the director general of the WHO, was critical of Trump’s remarks on the coronavirus at the end of February, saying he found much of what Trump said at his first press briefing on the domestic virus outbreak to be “incoherent.”