Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates is defending the World Health Organization, blasting President Donald Trump's decision to halt funding for the U.N. agency in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Microsoft co-founder and his wife, Melinda, voiced support for the WHO in separate Twitter posts early Wednesday, a day after Trump announced that he is halting U.S. funding while the administration reviews the agency's response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
"Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever," Gates tweeted.
The White House defended Trump's announcement.
"Any suggestion that the President is putting the health and safety of the American people or global health aid in jeopardy is false," deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement. "The WHO's response to COVID has been filled with one misstep after another, and President Trump is standing up for the American taxpayer to ensure we hold WHO accountable for their flawed actions."
Gates has long focused on the health field within his work at the nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, though he often avoids diving into political issues. However, he has been speaking out on the coronavirus pandemic. In late March he said the United States missed its chance to avoid mandated shutdowns because it didn't act fast enough on the pandemic.
Trump said Tuesday that his administration is suspending funding from the WHO as it investigates how the agency reacted to the coronavirus outbreak. Trump said the international health agency made mistakes that "caused so much death," as the virus continues to spread.
Since it emerged more than three months ago in Wuhan, China, the coronavirus has infected more than 1.9 million people worldwide and killed at least 125,678, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The WHO designated the virus as a global health emergency on Jan. 30, when there were fewer than 10,000 confirmed cases across the globe.
It's unclear exactly what mechanism Trump intends to use to withhold WHO funding, much of which is appropriated by Congress. The president typically does not have the authority to unilaterally redirect congressional funding.
One option might be for Trump to use powers granted to the president under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974. Under this statute, the president may propose to withhold congressional funds and actually halt them for up to 45 days.
During that period, the president can seek congressional approval to redirect the funds for another purpose. Without approval, the funds must be returned to their original, congressionally mandated purpose after 45 days.