US lawmakers demand documents explaining Trump WHO cuts

US lawmakers demand documents explaining Trump WHO cuts

President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, in Washington. Credit: AP Photo

A US congressional committee on Monday demanded that the State Department produce documents to explain President Donald Trump's decision to slash funds to the World Health Organization amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Democratic-led House Foreign Affairs Committee asked the State Department to list all meetings since December in which WHO funding was discussed and to hand over unredacted assessments on the decision's impact in fighting COVID-19.

Representative Eliot Engel, the committee chairman, warned that Congress could force the State Department to turn over documents if it does not do so by May 4 at 5:00 pm (2100 GMT).

"To date, the Department of State's justification for cutting WHO funding has come to the Congress in the form of a one-page talking points 'fact sheet' that contains few facts, no plan and no explanation of how suspending funds for the WHO will save lives here at home or around the world," Engel said.

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While acknowledging mistakes by the WHO, he called the UN body's role "invaluable" and charged that Trump was seeking to deflect from his own failings in confronting the virus, which has infected some three million people worldwide.

"Certainly, cutting the WHO's funding while the world confronts the COVID-19 tragedy is not the answer," Engel wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Trump on April 14 told reporters that the United States was freezing funding for the WHO, accusing the UN body of acting too late and of blindly supporting China, which initially downplayed the illness that emerged in the city of Wuhan.

The United States is the largest contributor to the WHO, offering more than $400 million each year, which also goes to combat other diseases around the world including polio and malaria.

Engel asked Pompeo for a legal justification on the cuts.

The United States has already given most funds for the year to the WHO and its baseline contribution of $115 million is authorized by Congress.

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