A day after turning a coronavirus task force briefing into a tense venting session trumpeting unfounded authority, President Donald Trump on Tuesday used his presidential platform to lambaste the World Health Organization during the health crisis.
“Today I'm instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization's role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump said.
He went on to accuse the WHO of allowing the new coronavirus to spread by not taking measures swiftly enough, claiming the group ignored “credible” information on human-to-human transmission in December.
“So many deaths have been caused by their mistakes,” he said. “It would have been so easy to be truthful.”
Trump had repeatedly threatened to pull the plug on WHO funding in recent days—attacking the group as “China-centric” just last week—but his decision to actually announce a halt to funding came after he triggered harsh criticism even among some of his own allies by declaring that he has the “total authority” to decide when individual states loosen coronavirus-related restrictions.
The president has no such authority, and was quickly called out both by experts and elected officials.
In the same briefing on Monday, when pressed on what many see as his own delayed response to the pandemic, he lashed out at critics in the media, at one point appearing to try and spread the blame by airing an ad that accused reporters of “minimizing” the threat of the virus.
Trump himself has shown an uneven handling of the pandemic back home in the United States. A push to re-open the country on an Easter timeline was abandoned, but not before the president compared the deadly coronavirus to the flu as he fretted about the economic impact of COVID-19.
In other cases, the president’s pushing of the drug hydroxychloroquine to help with coronavirus patients has also prompted some warnings from medical professionals as the health community struggles to deal with the toll of COVID-19.
Trump's briefing was seen by some as an attempt to deflect.
“Not everything is a distraction but this is a distraction. He wants this to be about other countries so he doesn’t have to explain why South Korea and the USA got hit with their first cases at the same time, but South Korea prevented mass deaths,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted Tuesday night.
The WHO advised against travel restrictions to stop the spread of the virus as recently as late February, arguing that such a move would ultimately be ineffective. Trump called that guidance a “disastrous decision” that he said triggered a “20-fold” increase in cases across the globe.
Meanwhile, he touted his own decision to impose travel restrictions on China as a measure that “saved thousands and thousands of lives.”
After blasting the WHO for defending the Chinese government and “praising its so-called transparency,” Trump was reminded by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins that he himself had thanked Chinese leaders for being transparent about the virus back in January.
Collins asked if the president now wanted to “walk back” his earlier public praise of China’s transparency.
“I don't talk about China's transparency,” Trump said.
Because of Trump’s targeting of WHO's federal funding, the president of the American Medical Association said in a statement Tuesday they “strongly urge the President to reconsider.”
“During the worst public health crisis in a century, halting funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) is a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier,” American Medical Association head Patrice A. Harris said.