The Trump administration on Tuesday confirmed it notified the World Health Organization of its intent to formally withdraw as a member effective July 6, 2021, setting in motion the actual process.
The news follows President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement in May he was “terminating” the U.S. relationship with the organization over its response to Chinese officials blocking crucial data on the emerging coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. Trump froze funding for the WHO in April while the administration initiated a review, calling for unspecified changes in the organization.
The U.S. is obligated to give the WHO 12 months’ notice before withdrawing, placing the actual time of withdrawal well after the presidential election this November.
A senior administration official confirmed the notice has been delivered to the United Nations secretary-general, but did not say whether the U.S. would pay its outstanding dues.
Member dues for calendar 2020 are scheduled to be paid under fiscal 2021 appropriations, setting up a potential clash between Congress and the White House if Trump refuses to sign off.
The House Appropriations Committee included $200 million explicitly for the WHO in its fiscal 2021 State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill, while the Senate has yet to unveil its version.
The administration move has few supporters, even from Republicans in Congress. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he disagreed with the decision.
“Certainly there needs to be a good, hard look at mistakes the World Health Organization might have made in connection with coronavirus, but the time to do that is after the crisis has been dealt with, not in the middle of it,” he said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Alexander pointed to international work on vaccine and prevention efforts as proof of the WHO’s value. “If the administration has specific recommendations for reforms of the WHO, it should submit those recommendations to Congress, and we can work together to make those happen,” he said.
Democrats and public health experts were swift in their condemnation.
“To call Trump’s response to COVID chaotic & incoherent doesn’t do it justice,” Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Menendez, D-N.J., tweeted. “This won't protect American lives or interests — it leaves Americans sick & America alone.”
“Abandoning our seat at the table leaves the United States out of global decision-making to combat the virus and global efforts to develop and access vaccines and therapeutics, leaving us more vulnerable to COVID-19 while diminishing our position as the leader in global health,” Infectious Diseases Society of America President Thomas M. File, Jr. said in a statement.
Health and Human Services Department Office of Global Affairs Director Garrett Grigsby told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month he hoped an actual withdrawal wouldn’t come to pass, but said “the ball is in their court.”