Top Republican Breaks with Trump on WHO Exit, Says it Could Harm Vaccine Trials

Senator Lamar Alexander, a top Republican who chairs the Senate health committee, broke with Donald Trump on Tuesday to criticize the president's decision to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization amid a global pandemic.

"I disagree with the president's decision," the Tennessee lawmaker said in a statement. "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."

Alexander, who is not seeking re-election this year and will retire from Congress when his term ends in January, went on to warn that America's exit could impede the world's quest for a coronavirus cure.

"Withdrawing U.S. membership could, among other things, interfere with clinical trials that are essential to the development of vaccines, which citizens of the United States, as well as others in the world, need," Alexander continued. "And withdrawing could make it harder to work with other countries to stop viruses before they get to the United States."

Lamar Alexander breaks with Trump WHO withdrawal
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, speaks during a committee hearing on June 30 in Washington, DC. Photo by Al Drago - Pool/Getty

The U.S. is the top financial contributor to the WHO and will likely leave China as the largest regular contributor when it exits the organization next year. The following chart by Statista shows membership fees to the WHO for this year by country, adjusted for each nation's wealth and population.

Biggest Financial Contributors to WHO
This chart by Statista shows the biggest financial contributors each year to the World Health Organization, which the United States will no longer be part of starting July, 2021. Statista

A senior White House official told Newsweek Tuesday that the country's official WHO withdrawal notice will be effective July 6, 2021, and had been submitted to the United Nations secretary-general. Congress was also notified, according to a tweet from Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

The WHO told Newsweek it received reports of the United States' formal withdrawal but declined to comment.

Trump's decision to pull the U.S. from the WHO fulfills a promise from earlier this year over his increased frustration with how the global health group handled China's early handling of the virus' spread. But the move comes amid a national spike in coronavirus cases as states reopen businesses and ease social distancing. The withdrawal was also against the advisement of public health officials, experts and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

"To call Trump's response to COVID chaotic & incoherent doesn't do it justice," Menendez wrote in a tweet. "This won't protect American lives or interests—it leaves Americans sick & America alone."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Trump's decision "an act of true senselessness" that is "crippling the international effort to defeat the virus."

Rather than remove the U.S. from the WHO, Alexander suggested the Trump administration provide Congress with "specific recommendations for reforms" for WHO so that "we can work together to make those happen."

But while Alexander opposed the president's move, he is an outlier among his GOP colleagues. Most Republicans, particularly more conservative members, previously praised Trump for his intention to remove the country from the WHO.

"China lied, the WHO complied and Americans died," Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement. "From the very start, the WHO and Secretary-General Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] have proven that their priority has been to assist the Chinese government at the expense of the American people and the rest of the world."

"Until the WHO undergoes some serious reforms," Comer added, "it doesn't deserve our money or our membership."