By JONATHAN LEMIRE, JILL COLVIN and ZEKE MILLER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to freeze U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, saying the international group had “missed the call” on the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump also played down the release of January memos from a senior adviser that represented an early warning of a possible coronavirus pandemic, saying he had not seen them at the time. But he turned his anger on the WHO, first declaring that he would cut off U.S. funding for the organization, then backtracking and saying he would “strongly consider” such a move.
Trump said the international group had “called it wrong” on the virus and that the organization was “very China-centric” in its approach, suggesting that the WHO had gone along with Beijing’s efforts months ago to minimize the severity of the outbreak. The WHO has praised China for its transparency on the virus, even though there has been reason to believe that more people died of COVID-19 than the country’s official tally.
“They should have known and they probably did know,” Trump said of WHO officials.
Throughout his presidency, Trump has voiced skepticism toward many international organizations and has repeatedly heaped scorn on the WHO. In its most recent budget proposal, in February, the Trump administration called for slashing the U.S. contribution to the WHO from an estimated $122.6 million to $57.9 million.
The organization’s current guidance does not advocate closing borders or restricting travel, though many nations, including the United States, have enacted those steps. The WHO declared COVID-19 a public health emergency on Jan. 30, nearly a month before Trump tweeted that “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA” and a full 43 days before he declared a national emergency in the United States.
Health experts have suggested that the weekly death totals will reach a new high in the United States this week. More than 12,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S.
Vice President Mike Pence said that the Centers for Disease Control will release new guidelines this week for returning to work for people with potential exposure but who may not be displaying symptoms.
Trump continued on Tuesday to defend his actions in the early days of the crisis. He played down memos written by Peter Navarro, a senior White House adviser, that were made public this week. In the late January memos, the most direct warning as yet uncovered in the upper levels of the Trump administration, Navarro warned that the coronavirus crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.
Trump said Tuesday that he was not aware of the memos back in January but that he unilaterally followed some of their recommendations, including taking steps to curtail travel from China. But he said he wouldn’t have wanted to act prematurely when it was not clear how dire the situation would become.
“I don’t want to create havoc and shock and everything else. I’m not going to go out and start screaming, ’This could happen, this could happen,’” Trump said. “I’m a cheerleader for this country.”