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GOP Health Committee chair says he disagrees with Trump's WHO decision

GOP Health Committee chair says he disagrees with Trump's WHO decision
© Greg Nash

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMcConnell chokes up saying goodbye to 'friend' Lamar Alexander in floor speech Mark Kelly sworn in to Senate seat Longtime GOP lawmaker urges Senate to restore itself in farewell speech MORE (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Tuesday he disagrees with President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Alexander, who is retiring when his term is up in January, acknowledged the WHO has stumbled in its response to the pandemic but said the time to take action would be after COVID-19 has been “dealt with.”

“I disagree with the president’s 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 in a statement. 

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“If the administration has specific recommendations for reforms of the WHO, it should submit those recommendations to Congress, and we can work together to make those happen,” he added.

Alexander also expressed concerns that withdrawing from the body could undercut clinical trials that could be important to developing vaccines and hinder cooperation with other nations to try to stop the spread of viruses before they reach the U.S. 

The rebuke comes after the White House submitted the U.S.’s WHO withdrawal notification to the United Nations secretary-general. Withdrawal requires a year's notice, so it will not go into effect until July 6, 2021. 

Trump first froze U.S. funds to the WHO in April amid an internal review of his administration’s relationship with the group and ultimately announced at the end of May that the U.S. was “terminating” ties with the entity.

The break followed months of Republican criticism against the WHO over its response to the coronavirus, with some lawmakers accusing it of abetting China’s efforts to cover up the extent of the first COVID-19 outbreak and noting the WHO’s erroneous initial assertion that the coronavirus could not be spread via human-to-human contact. 

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“The mission of the WHO is to get public health information to the world so every country can make the best decisions to keep their citizens safe. When it comes to Coronavirus, the WHO failed. They need to be held accountable for their role in promoting misinformation and helping Communist China cover up a global pandemic,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla). said in a statement in March. 

Still, the Tuesday announcement sparked bipartisan criticism, with some lawmakers warning the move would put the country at risk.

“This is an abdication of America’s role as a global leader and it is the opposite of putting America first — it will put America at risk,” said Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCriminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot National reading, math tests postponed to 2022 amid coronavirus surge Democratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition MORE (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Health Committee. “President Trump needs to realize this crisis doesn’t recognize borders and hiding from it or passing the blame won’t make it go away or make him any less responsible.”