President Donald Trump's move to formally withdraw from the World Health Organization, even as the pandemic spikes here and around the world, is a new bar of cynical irresponsibility even for this administration. Like virtually everything Trump has done through this crisis, it places a lower priority on what's good for the nation. In this case, his top priority is his need of a scapegoat for his own crashing failure to lead.
Luckily, this reckless move can't become effective for a year, and even then many scholars argue he would require congressional approval. Congress should make it clear right now that no such approval will be forthcoming.
The World Health Organization coordinates between countries worldwide on global health issues. During its 72-year history, it has played roles in eradicating smallpox and polio and developing the Ebola vaccine.
America pledged almost $900 million to the U.N. agency's two-year budget in 2018 and 2019. That's about 20% of the budget and far more than any other country. This makes sense. The U.S., as the world's largest economy, is deeply vested in international trade that can be derailed by global pandemics.
Trump has blithely undermined America's leadership role many times. He's doing it now by trying to turn the national conversation to the World Health Organization's admitted lapses early in the pandemic, instead of Trump's own continuing failures in real time.
There's no question the organization failed in its early response to the coronavirus with its uncritical acceptance of information from China's authoritarian government downplaying the global threat. The organization has acknowledged its failure and has committed to an independent review of it.
Taking responsibility like that stands in stark contrast to Trump, who accepts none. Trump himself repeated many of the World Health Organization's mistakes — Politico counted at least 15 times early in the pandemic that Trump praised China's response. Trump still brags about his foreign travel ban, which was so poorly conceived and executed that American travelers were able to bring the disease home unimpeded.
Even today, as the World Health Organization learns from its mistakes and tries to confront the continuing crisis more responsibly, Trump continues his irresponsible strategy of pretending it's over. He insists on maskless rallies, demands that schools reopen no matter what the circumstances and intentionally politicizes a crisis that should be entirely about the data. His failure to offer anything resembling national leadership has undoubtedly cost American lives.
Withdrawing from the World Health Organization would only add to that cost. Trump's removal from office after the November election would short-circuit his irresponsible plan (just one of a long list of benefits that his defeat would bring). But in case Trump wins a second term, Congress — including Republicans — have an obligation to America and the world to make clear they won't let this happen.
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