Policy Update

US Senate debates COVID-19 response, WHO withdrawal decision

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee held an, at times contentious, committee hearing on June 19, 2020, covering topics including the delay in spending of the supplemental appropriations passed by Congress in March and the US decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO). Both the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) appeared before the committee to answer questions about the administration's budget proposal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not appear, a move which was criticized by Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the committee.

Some of the debate focused on the administration's global health security proposal, which aims to move most global health programs out of USAID and into the State Department. Senator Menendez was sharply critical of the idea, expressing concern about the impact on USAID's ability to effectively do its work.

Chairman Risch diverted from the usual Republican criticism of the WHO to offer support for the work of the UN agency. Although the WHO needs some reforms, he said, the WHO does "some great work" and noted that he had talked directly to the WHO leadership to encourage changes to pandemic responses.

Senator Menendez asked the Health and Human Services (HHS) representative why the WHO should listen to the US, given its decision to withdraw. According to HHS, the US is still a member of WHO and is coordinating with other G7 ministers on the COVID-19 response.

News article - Devex