Lindsay Graham Promises to Cut U.S. Funding to WHO Unless There's a Change in Leadership

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wants to cut U.S. funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), the specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health, unless it changes its leadership.

Graham claims the organization's head relied too heavily on the Chinese government's assessment of its own COVID-19 outbreak leading the WHO not to declare the novel coronavirus as a public health emergency as quickly as it should have.

The WHO, which received 14.67 percent of its funding from the U.S. in 2018 and 2019, is currently led by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian microbiologist who has served as its Director-General since 2017.

Graham pledged to use his position as chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign operations to stop the WHO from receiving U.S. funding.

"I'm not going to support funding the WHO under its current leadership," Graham said during a Fox News appearance. "They've been deceptive, they've been slow, and they've been Chinese apologists. I don't think they're a good investment under the current leadership for the United States, and until they change their behavior and get new leadership, I think it's in America's best interest to withhold funding because they have failed miserably when it comes to the coronavirus."

The U.S. currently provides the WHO $122.6 million annually. Trump's 2021 budget proposed slashing the amount down to $57.9 million. Graham is proposing cutting the funding entirely.

Lindsey Graham
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks to members of the press after a Senate Republican luncheon in the Hart Senate Office Building March 19, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty

His pledge echoes a similar threat made by U.S. President Donald Trump during Tuesday's White House coronavirus briefing.

Trump called the WHO "China-centric" and said, "[The WHO] could have called it months earlier. They would have known and they should have known and they probably did not. So we'll be looking into that very carefully. We're gonna put a hold on money spent to the WHO... We're going to take a look at it.... and we're going to see. It's a great thing if it works, but when they call every shot wrong, that's not good."

When asked what he meant by "China-centric," Trump responded, "They seem to come down on the side of China." As proof, Trump cited the WHO's praise of China's efforts to contain the virus and Ghebreyesus' public disagreement with Trump's decision to limit travel from China to the U.S. on January 31. Ghebreyesus stated he believed the ban would "have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit."

The WHO also opposed Trump's repeatedly calling COVID-19 "the Chinese virus," saying that such language stigmatizes ethnic Chinese people and conflates them with the ongoing epidemic.

Senators Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) have also called for Ghebreyesus to step down for allegedly facilitating a Chinese cover-up on coronavirus data.

Newsweek has reached out to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the vice chairman of the Appropriations committee, to ask whether he agrees with Graham's assessment of the WHO's leadership. Leahy's office had not responded by the time of publication.