- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2020

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday launched a formal inquiry into President Trump’s decision to freeze funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, condemned the move and called on the State Department to produce information related to Mr. Trump’s decision to withhold funding.

“Diplomatic, development, and global health professionals have warned that cutting the WHO’s funding at this time will only hurt the global response and provide another opportunity for China to exert its influence,” Mr. Engel wrote.

He called the funding freeze “counterproductive and puts lives at risk.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Trump announced he would be freezing hundreds of millions of dollars in annual payments to the United Nations-backed agency while U.S. officials review its role in “mismanaging” the coronavirus crisis.

Global leaders and U.N. officials slammed the move at the time, but many countries said they were not ready to follow Washington’s lead in the middle of a pandemic that has now infected nearly 3 million people worldwide and killed more than 54,000 in the U.S. alone.

SEE ALSO: Michael McCaul calls for investigation into China, WHO handling of coronavirus in early stages

The U.S. assessed contribution for 2020 is $120 million, representing 22% of WHO’s core budget for the year, according to data from USAID. In 2018, the U.S.’s voluntary budget was nearly double its assessed contribution at $220 million.

The WHO, based in Switzerland, is considered the world leader in public health emergencies, such as the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has been nearly stamped out amid violent conditions.

Critics of the WHO say the agency was slow to recognize the severity of the novel coronavirus threat, repeatedly gave out misleading information and failed to press China’s leaders to be more transparent about the origins and early days of the outbreak.

But Mr. Engel said in his letter that “attacking the WHO, rather than the COVID-19 outbreak, will only worsen an already dire situation by undermining one of our key tools to fight the spreading disease.”

“The Administration’s explanation for this decision is inadequate, and the Committee on Foreign Affairs is determined to understand the reasons behind this self-defeating withdrawal from global leadership.”

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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