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McMorris Rodgers, Risch say Trump right to review World Health Organization

The logo and building of the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, 15 April 2020. (Martial Trezzina / AP)

At least two members of the Inland Northwest’s congressional delegation agree with President Donald Trump’s decision to look into the World Health Organization’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Sen. Jim Risch have both publicly endorsed Trump’s announcement this week that a review would occur of the actions by the United Nations public health agency, which was met with blowback for unclear early messaging on the transmission of the virus but also was praised for its work to develop a treatment and vaccine.

The president also said Tuesday that the U.S. would cease making payments to the agency until the review concludes, a process that could take up to three months.

McMorris Rodgers quickly signaled on Twitter her agreement with Trump that the WHO should be scrutinized, but she did not weigh in on the decision to withhold funding. America provides the greatest amount of funding to the organization of any of its 194 member states, a total of more than $400 million annually.

“We need a thorough review of how @WHO spread misinformation from China and how it shaped the global response to COVID-19,” McMorris Rodgers wrote on Twitter late Tuesday, later linking to an Associated Press investigation that found China did not publicly reveal details about the spread of the virus for six days. “For strong American global leadership, @POTUS is right to demand accountability & transparency here.”

A spokesman did not respond to questions Wednesday about whether McMorris Rodgers supported the withholding of funding or if she had concerns about recent reports that the Trump White House was warned as early as January about the WHO downplaying the significance of the novel coronavirus but choosing to take no actions beyond a travel ban with China.

The congresswoman previously suggested a deeper look into the relationship between China and the WHO was necessary, tweeting support last week after Trump said his administration would investigate and sharing an ill-fated tweet from the WHO in January that asserted the highly contagious virus could not be transmitted from human to human.

Sen. Patty Murray on Wednesday accused the Trump White House of attempting to shift blame while at the same time cutting off necessary aid to the international organization largely responsible for stopping the spread of a global pandemic.

“This is a tragically wrong step – especially right now,” Murray wrote on Twitter, linking to a CNN story about the president’s decision. “It will hurt our ability to respond to this pandemic and future public health emergencies. President Trump needs to stop pointing fingers and focus on how to keep people safe and healthy.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell said in a statement that limiting resources to fight a global pandemic was a bad decision.

“The president is wrong,” Cantwell said in a statement. “The ‘pan’ in pandemic means it doesn’t stop at borders. We need to have a global response to stop the virus.”

Murray and Cantwell were joined by a chorus of foreign nations and WHO supporters, as well as the head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who on ABC News on Wednesday said the two organizations had “a really productive health relationship” and calling for any investigation of the WHO’s response to occur after the pandemic was over.

Risch told Boise’s KTVB on Tuesday evening that he didn’t believe the president’s announcement about funding would lead to a diminished capacity to fight the coronavirus. He told the station that he’d met that day with WHO leaders after publicly calling for an investigation last week and had been promised a detailed timeline on their response to the outbreak.

“The president is not cutting off money from the fight against the coronavirus,” Risch, chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, told the station. “What he is doing is saying that he’s not convinced we’re getting the biggest bang for our buck through the WHO, and he’s looking at other organizations – like our own CDC – where we could better spend that money.”

A country gives money to the WHO through two avenues: a mandatory amount based on population and wealth called assessed contributions, and voluntary payments on top of that amount. The United States is scheduled to pay the organization nearly $58 million in assessed contributions in 2020, and Congress approves all payments through the budget process.

The president could use his executive power to reallocate the money intended to be sent to the WHO, according to Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and columnist for the conservative magazine the National Review.