The Trump administration has formally notified the United Nations of its withdrawal from the World Health Organization, although the pullout won’t take effect until next year, meaning it could be rescinded under a new administration or if circumstances change.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said he would reverse the decision on his first day in office — if elected.
The withdrawal notification makes good on President Trump’s vow in late May to terminate U.S. participation in the WHO, which he has harshly criticized for its response to the coronavirus pandemic and accused of bowing to Chinese influence.
The withdrawal notice was sent to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday and will take effect in a year, on July 6, 2021.
The State Department said the U.S. would continue to seek reform of the WHO, but referred to Trump’s June 15 response when asked if the administration might change its mind. “I’m not reconsidering, unless they get their act together, and I’m not sure they can at this point,” Trump said.
Under the terms of the withdrawal, the U.S. must meet its financial obligations to the WHO before it can be finalized. The U.S., which is the agency’s largest donor and provides it with more than $450 million per year, currently owes the WHO some $200 million in current and past dues.
On May 29, less than two weeks after warning the WHO that it had 30 days to reform or lose U.S. support, Trump announced his administration was leaving the organization due to what he said was its inadequate response to the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in China’s Wuhan province late last year.
The president said in a White House announcement that Chinese officials “ignored” their reporting obligations to the WHO and pressured the organization to mislead the public about an outbreak that has now killed more than 130,000 Americans.
“We have detailed the reforms that it must make and engaged with them directly, but they have refused to act,” Trump said at the time.
The withdrawal notification was widely denounced as misguided, certain to undermine an important institution that is leading vaccine development efforts and drug trials to address the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Republican chairman of Senate health committee, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, 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.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned the move calling it “true senselessness.”