Trump halt to WHO funding violates same law as Ukraine aid freeze, House Democrats say

Politico reports President Donald Trump’s halt to World Health Organization funding is illegal and violates the same federal spending laws as the Ukraine aid freeze that partly prompted his impeachment, House Democrats said on Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump’s decision is “dangerous, illegal and will be swiftly challenged,” without elaborating on what specific action might be taken.

But a senior administration official contended that language in the most recent spending bill for the State Department and other foreign aid programs gives Trump “broad discretion” in spending money allocated to WHO, including a possible redirection of the health organization’s funding to other international causes after the administration completes a review of the funds in two to three months. Trump announced the review at the same time he said WHO funding would be halted.

House Democrats for months have homed in on the administration’s efforts to slow, halt or redirect dollars appropriated by Congress to satisfy Trump’s personal policy priorities, and they said this is another example.

They said a decision issued by the Government Accountability Office in January also applies to Trump’s action against WHO, which receives $400 million from the U.S. each year. The U.S. is the world’s largest contributor to the organization, which operates on a $4.8 billion annual budget.

GAO concluded that Trump broke the law when he paused hundreds of millions of dollars in critical military aid to Ukraine last summer, declaring that the president can’t “substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.“

Democrats said Trump is breaking that law again. “In a desperate attempt to deflect blame, President Trump is violating the same spending laws that brought about his impeachment,” Evan Hollander, a spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The President does not have the unilateral authority to withhold the United States’ assessed contribution to the World Health Organization,” he said. “Moreover, refusing to fund the WHO is a foolish step that only weakens international tools to fight this pandemic and future global health emergencies.“

But a senior administration official pointed to language included in fiscal 2020 appropriations law requiring that the administration spend the money on “necessary expenses, not otherwise provided for, to meet annual obligations of membership in international multilateral organizations.” The language doesn’t specify that the dollars must flow to WHO, the official said.

“We believe that pursuant to the appropriation, we have broad discretion to spend that money,” the administration official said.

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