Public health experts have savaged President Donald Trump’s decision to cut U.S. funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), which he says failed in its “basic duty” during the coronavirus pandemic by promoting “disinformation” from China.
“Today I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess [its] role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump said at an April 14 briefing.
The move represents another stunning turnaround for Trump, who in late February praised the WHO for “working hard and very smart,” before souring on the world body in recent days as the U.S. death toll soared. Still, it remains in line with his longstanding distrust of multilateral institutions more generally.
Critics have accused the President of attempting to shift blame away from his own torpid response to the pandemic. The WHO declared a public health emergency on Jan. 30, after which Trump continued to speak at rallies and belittle COVID-19 as “the flu.”
Trump’s funding announcement has already drawn condemnation from all quarters. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a statement that this is “not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the [WHO] or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus.”
Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the Lancet medical journal, wrote that Trump’s decision was “a crime against humanity. Every scientist, every health worker, every citizen must resist and rebel against this appalling betrayal of global solidarity.”
Critics agree the WHO’s response suffered missteps at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak. There was a
- focus on government information rather than non-official sources, such as whistleblowers like Dr. Li Wenliang.
- Officials could have investigated how many healthcare workers had become infected, which was
- clear evidence of human-to-human transmission before official confirmation came Jan. 23.
- It advised nations not to close borders.
“The WHO could have been more diligent in determining the nature of the outbreak and how serious the problem was,” says Dr. Yanzhong Huang, a global health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Trump’s scapegoating of the WHO comes after he spent two months ignoring warnings about a disease that has now killed more than 26,000 people in the U.S., the highest national death toll. In late January, influential White House economic advisor Peter Navarro wrote a memo to Trump that warned COVID-19 had the potential to claim hundreds of thousands of American lives and derail the national economy unless immediate and sweeping containment efforts were implemented.
Trump’s sluggish response stands out against the examples of other nations. South Korea, for one, confirmed its first case of COVID-19 just one day before the U.S. Yet a robust public health response that tested three times as many citizens per capita has kept reported cases under 11,000 compared to more than 600,000 in the U.S., which also has a triple the fatality rate.
“President Trump is trying to rewrite history to divert criticism from his own administration’s failures,” Adam Kamradt-Scott, associate professor specializing in global health security at the University of Sydney, tells TIME. “Lives will be lost as a result.”
Yet most public health professionals agree that the WHO is desperately in need of reform. It has been for a very long time. Despite a sprawling global mandate, the U.N. agency, which was founded in 1949, has an annual budget of just $2.2 billion—smaller than the largest American hospitals and a fraction of the $11.9 billion allocated to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The U.S. is the largest single donor to the WHO, contributing over $400 million in 2019 including both assessed (mandatory) contributions and voluntary top-up donations from government and private sources (Though, in fact, the U.S. is currently $200 million in arrears.)
The WHO’s shoestring budget is largely because assessed contributions were frozen in the early 1980s amid the Reagan Administration’s outrage that U.N. bodies—particularly UNESCO—appeared to be tilting toward Moscow as more Kremlin-aligned third-world states joined up. As a result, assessed contributions have not risen in real terms since then and continue to be based on a combination of GDP and population. The U.S. today still provides around twice the assessed contributions of second place China.
But assessed contributions only account for $246.8 million in 2020, meaning over 80% of the WHO’s total budget comes from voluntary contributions. The U.S. comes top again while China’s voluntary contributions are negligible. But the greater problem with voluntary funds is that they are ringfenced for specific purposes and so cannot be diverted to address sudden crises, such as Ebola or COVID-19.
Ultimately, the WHO has little freedom to decide for itself where to spend its meagre resources; those decisions are made by the donors, whether government or charitable entities like the Gates Foundation. This is why 27% of the WHO’s total budget is spent towards polio eradication despite just dozens of cases annually. “The funding structure is unpredictable and allows donors to dictate the agenda,” says Huang.
This lack of resources contributes to various missteps. In 2009, the WHO was criticized for declaring a pandemic for H1N1 flu too early and for a virus that wasn’t sufficiently virulent. During the 2014 West Africa Ebola Outbreak, it was condemned for delaying the declaration of a public health emergency.
The irony of Trump’s funding cut is that, by its own questionable record, the WHO’s COVID-19 response was “fairly good,” says Kamradt-Scott.
In turns of accountability, the WHO does now livestream its World Health Assembly meetings every year to boost transparency. But the lack of criticism—and fulsome praise—of China’s COVID-19 response despite obvious problems with the reported numbers of infected and dead has galvanized suspicions of politicization. WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised China’s “extraordinary” efforts against COVID-19 that were “setting a new standard for outbreak response.”
There is unquestionably an effort to avoid an adversarial culture within the WHO’s 194 member states. It has consistently sought to try and cajole and co-opt countries into doing the right thing as opposed to publicly naming and shaming.
The notable exception was in 2003-04, when various WHO officials criticized China for downplaying the SARS outbreak. “It would have been much better if the Chinese government had been more open in the early stages,” said WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland said at the time.
In the review that followed that crisis it was decided that the WHO should in future take a less confrontational approach when dealing with member states. The U.S. was party to that conversation and has, arguably, been a key beneficiary over the years. The periodic rolling back of family planning provisions in the U.S. during conservative administrations has escaped censure from the WHO despite a documented deleterious impact on the health and wellbeing of women and children. The same could be said about the lack of comprehensive universal healthcare like that enjoyed in so many other developed nations.
Ultimately, of course, it’s not strictly up to Trump whether to keep funding the WHO. The White House is not technically allowed to block funding of international institutions mandated by Congress, though the administration has found creative ways around constitutional hurdles through the application of sanctions or diverting funds by other means.
Still, the very threat of slashing funding has the potential to turn Trump’s specious claims about a “China-centric” WHO into a reality. Beijing has steadily been increasing its influence and putting nationals into key posts in nearly all multinational institutions—from the U.N. and Interpol, to the IMF. As Trump orients the U.S. away from the world stage, a presumptive superpower like China stands poised to fill the gap. Says Kamradt-Scott: “It would seem that Trump has just given China an opportunity on a silver platter.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden will initially rely on a decades-old network of big donors if he enters the Democratic presidential primary contest as expected, in contrast to the small-donor base that many of his 2020 rivals are racing to build.
Mr. Biden’s campaigns in the 2008 and 1988 primaries netted a combined $18.5 million and were financed by big donors and public funds—which candidates in recent years have stopped using because of spending limits they trigger. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, fueled his insurgent 2016 presidential bid almost entirely with contributions of $200 or less, amassing $238 million in a little over a year... There is little evidence that Mr. Biden, 76 years old, has worked to foster a base of small donors in the two years since he left office. He has expressed concern to Democratic fundraisers that he won’t be able to make a splash with early online donations the way Mr. Sanders and other candidates have.The political action committee that Mr. Biden started in May 2017 to help Democrats spent more than $550,000 in digital consultants, but that investment barely paid off, Federal Election Commission records show. The group, American Possibilities PAC, received $923,000 from donors giving $200 or less, out of the $2.6 million it raised.
.. The PAC had been paying Blue State Digital, a firm founded by Joe Rospars, the chief digital strategist for former President Obama’s two presidential campaigns and now an adviser to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign.
Mr. Biden, who has spent much of the past few years giving paid speeches and promoting his book, said he wants to fund his presidential bid on his own terms—and has ruled out well-funded help from outside his potential campaign. Representatives for Mr. Biden didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“I will not be part of a super PAC,” Mr. Biden said in a February appearance at the University of Delaware. “An awful lot of people have offered to help—and the people who are usually the biggest donors in the Democratic Party, and I might add some major Republican folks.”
Mr. Biden’s allies have been reaching out to their contacts in preparation for a campaign announcement, which could happen as early as Wednesday. Donors can give a maximum $2,800 per election.
Some of Mr. Biden’s longtime supporters are planning fundraisers for him soon after his likely campaign launch. Several donors said David L. Cohen, a Comcast Corp. senior executive vice president, is organizing a fundraiser that is expected to include former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and several top donors from the Obama and Clinton campaigns, planned in Philadelphia, where Mr. Biden has deep ties.
“The vast majority [of Obama donors] who I’ve talked to are with Biden—and have been waiting for him,” said Alan Kessler, a Philadelphia attorney and Democratic fundraiser who has committed to Mr. Biden.
Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina state senator and longtime Democratic fundraiser, said he plans to contribute the maximum to Mr. Biden “the second he announces.”
“He has a natural advantage with fundraising, but not a natural advantage in the digital universe,” said Mr. Harpootlian, adding Mr. Biden can use large checks like the one he will write to invest in a small-dollar online fundraising program.
The Obama donor network includes about 250 people who each raised $500,000 or more for his re-election bid. But those so-called bundlers, who aggregate donations and write lump-sum checks, aren’t acting in unison—some are writing checks to multiple candidates or have committed to other Democratic presidential contenders ahead of Mr. Biden’s announcement.
Are you sure you want to get rid of Donald Trump?
There are problems with impeaching Donald Trump. A big one is the holy terror waiting in the wings.
That would be Mike Pence, who mirrors the boss more than you realize. He’s also self-infatuated. Also a bigot. Also a liar. Also cruel.
To that brimming potpourri he adds two ingredients that Trump doesn’t genuinely possess: the conviction that he’s on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy.
.. The book persuasively illustrates what an ineffectual congressman he was, apart from cozying up to the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos and other rich Republican donors
.. the strong possibility that he wouldn’t have won re-election; his luck in being spared that humiliation by the summons from Trump, who needed an outwardly bland, intensely religious character witness to muffle his madness and launder his sins; and the alacrity with which he says whatever Trump needs him to regardless of the truth.
.. In Pence’s view, any bite marks in his tongue are divinely ordained. Trump wouldn’t be president if God didn’t want that; Pence wouldn’t be vice president if he weren’t supposed to sanctify Trump. And his obsequiousness is his own best route to the Oval Office, which may very well be God’s grand plan.
.. “I don’t think he’s as resilient, politically, as Bill Clinton was,” D’Antonio said. “He doesn’t relish a partisan fight in the same way. He loves to go to rallies where people adore him.”
There’s no deeply felt policy vision or sense of duty to sustain him through the investigations and accusations. “If the pain is great enough,” D’Antonio said, “I think he’d be disposed not to run again.”.. It suggests callousness at best toward African-Americans. As governor, Pence refused to pardon a black man who had spent almost a decade in prison for a crime that he clearly hadn’t committed. He also ignored a crisis — similar to the one in Flint, Mich. — in which people in a poor, largely black Indiana city were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. D’Antonio told me: “I think he’s just as driven by prejudice as Trump is.”.. he rallied behind the unhinged former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. In a speech he called Arpaio a “tireless champion” of the “rule of law.” This was after Arpaio’s contempt-of-court conviction for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop using illegal tactics to torment immigrants. The conservative columnist George Will seized on Pence’s speech to write that Pence had dethroned Trump as “America’s most repulsive public figure.”.. You can thank Pence for DeVos. They are longtime allies, going back decades, who bonded over such shared passions as making it O.K. for students to use government money, in the form of vouchers, at religious schools.Pence cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to confirm her as education secretary... Pence once spoke positively on the House floor about historical figures who “actually placed it beyond doubt that the offense of abortion was a capital offense, punishable even by death.” He seemed to back federal funds for anti-gay conversion therapy. He promoted a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
“He is absolutely certain that his moral view should govern public policy,” D’Antonio told me.
.. Pence sees himself and fellow Christian warriors as a blessed but oppressed group, and his “hope for the future resided in his faith that, as chosen people, conservative evangelicals would eventually be served by a leader whom God would enable to defeat their enemies and create a Christian nation.”
.. Is America worse off with Trump or Pence?
“I have to say that I prefer Donald Trump, because I think that Trump is more obvious in his intent,” he said, while Pence tends to “disguise his agenda.”