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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s decision to temporarily halt funding to the World Health Organization while his administration conducted a review of the agency’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak is “illegal.”
In addition, the California Democrat promised the president’s decision would be “challenged” immediately.
“This is another case, as I have said, of the President’s ineffective response, that ‘a weak person, a poor leader, takes no responsibility. A weak person blames others.’ This decision is dangerous, illegal and will be swiftly challenged,” Pelosi said Wednesday in a statement.
She did not elaborate on what actions would be taken to challenge Trump’s decision. But House Democrats said his funding freeze was an alleged violation of the same federal spending laws regarding Ukrainian military aid they say led, in part, to his impeachment, Politico reported.
“In a desperate attempt to deflect blame, President Trump is violating the same spending laws that brought about his impeachment,” Evan Hollander, a spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The President does not have the unilateral authority to withhold the United States’ assessed contribution to the World Health Organization,” he said. “Moreover, refusing to fund the WHO is a foolish step that only weakens international tools to fight this pandemic and future global health emergencies.”
However, Politico reports that a senior administration official countermanded that by pointing to language in fiscal 2020 appropriations statutes that requires the White House to spend the funds on “necessary expenses, not otherwise provided for, to meet annual obligations of membership in international multilateral organizations.”
In short, the law does not specify that the funds have to be spent on the WHO, the official noted, adding, “We believe that pursuant to the appropriation, we have broad discretion to spend that money.”
The president has been critical of what he says is WHO’s “China-centric” attitude, taking the side of the ChiCom regime which is being blamed for hiding the effects of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) and purposely underreporting sickness and death rates. He has also noted that the U.S. contributes about $400 million a year to the global health agency while China, another first-world country, only coughs up around 10 percent of that amount, or $40 million annually.
Trump has also blamed the WHO’s leaders for opposing a travel ban he slapped on China in late January as it became apparent a global pandemic was coming.
“Countless more lives would have been saved. Instead, look at the rest of the world,” Trump said.
The freeze on aid is expected to last 60 to 90 days while the administration conducts a review of the WHO’s actions.
Similarly, the administration said it paused $400 million in military aid to Ukraine last summer while it conducted a “policy review,” with administration officials saying that they wanted to ensure other countries are contributing their fair share to the Eastern European region.
In January, GAO concluded that the president can’t withhold funds for a policy reason because it’s a violation of the Impoundment Control Act, a 1974 law that sharply curbs the executive branch’s authority to alter congressionally appropriated funds. The report undercut an oft-stated defense of Trump’s decision to hold the aid back: that it was a lawful exercise of the president’s authority.
Another federal agency involved in the disbursement of U.S. aid funds disagreed, however.
“We disagree with GAO’s opinion,” Office of Management and Budget spokesperson Rachel Semmel said at the time. “OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the president’s priorities and with the law.”
Some Republicans jumped on board the president’s decision to withhold funding.
“The current WHO leadership has proven to be incompetent and shown overwhelming evidence of China bias,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a presidential ally and the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees federal aid, in a Wednesday tweet. “Cutting off funding to the WHO at this time is the right move.”
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