GOP senators: Tie WHO funding to cooperation with congressional probe

GOP senators: Tie WHO funding to cooperation with congressional probe
© Greg Nash

A group of Senate Republicans are requesting top members of the Senate Appropriations Committee tie any funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) to the international body cooperating with congressional investigations.

Five senators sent a letter to Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate braces for a nasty debt ceiling fight Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor How Sen. Graham can help fix the labor shortage with commonsense immigration reform MORE (R-S.C.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyNational Guard cancels trainings after Congress fails to reimburse for Capitol riot deployment Democrats criticize FBI's handling of tip line in Kavanaugh investigation Lawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection MORE (D-Vt.), the chairman and top Democrat on the subcommittee overseeing WHO funding, asking them to make any money included in a fiscal 2021 appropriations bill conditional.

"We urge you to condition funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) on its full and complete cooperation with Congress’s review and investigation of its response to the deadly novel Coronavirus, COVID-19," they wrote.

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"We respectfully request that these conditions allow funding for the WHO to be reduced or eliminated for FY 2021 if it fails to cooperate with Congress or the Administration so that this money may instead be redirected to other domestic and international healthcare programs and organizations," they added.

GOP Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi considers adding GOP voices to Jan. 6 panel MORE (Wis.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenators hail 'historic changes' as competing proposals to tackle military sexual assault advance Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor Overnight Defense: Military justice overhaul included in defense bill | Pentagon watchdog to review security of 'nuclear football' | Pentagon carries out first air strike in Somalia under Biden MORE (N.C.), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesSenate committee advances bipartisan energy infrastructure bill  Hillicon Valley: Lina Khan faces major FTC test | Amazon calls for her recusal | Warren taps commodities watchdog to probe Google Senators propose bill to help private sector defend against hackers MORE (Mont.) and Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTransit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal Senate falling behind on infrastructure Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor MORE (N.D.) signed the letter.

Trump announced earlier this month that he was pausing U.S. funding to the World Health Organization pending a review of its response to the coronavirus. Graham said at the time that he supports "a suspension of funding by the United States until there is new leadership at the WHO."

Republicans hold a 8-7 majority on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations, meaning they could send a bill to the Appropriations Committee without Democratic support if every GOP senator votes for the bill. But a funding bill will need 60 votes, meaning bipartisan support, to ultimately pass the Senate.

Trump and his congressional allies have increasingly homed in on the WHO's handling of the coronavirus, accusing the health body of being overly acquiescent to China. Democrats warn that cutting off U.S. support will only strengthen Beijing's hand in the organization.

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Johnson, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Scott, a member of the committee, are pledging to probe the U.S. and international response to the coronavirus.

They sent a letter to the WHO earlier this month, saying they were requesting information ahead of a congressional hearing on the WHO's role in "helping the Chinese Communist Party cover up information regarding the threat of the Coronavirus." 

The senators added in their letter to Graham and Leahy that they support Trump's decision to suspend funding for the WHO and will "continue to support that decision unless and until the WHO agrees to cooperate fully and completely with Congress and the Administration."

"Congress must ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent in the best interest of Americans. Congress cannot continue to blindly appropriate funds to the WHO without assuring itself that any mistakes made during this outbreak will be identified and corrected," they added.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced that it would start to shift funding to other health-focused groups, marking an escalation in the president's fight with the WHO.