Trump administration informs Congress it is officially withdrawing US from WHO amid pandemic

WASHINGTON -- The White House formally notified Congress on Tuesday that the Trump administration is moving forward with cutting ties with the World Health Organization amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday on Twitter that Congress received word of the official withdrawal. Menendez criticized the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak.

“Congress received notification that POTUS officially withdrew the U.S. from the @WHO in the midst of a pandemic,” Menendez wrote. “To call Trump’s response to COVID chaotic & incoherent doesn't do it justice. This won't protect American lives or interests—it leaves Americans sick & America alone.”

President Donald Trump announced May 29 that he would be terminating the country’s relationship with WHO, accusing it of being effectively controlled by China and misleading the world about the virus. The president referenced his May 18 letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that laid out specific allegations and demanded changes.

President Trump noted that the U.S. contributes about $450 million to the world body, while China provides about $40 million.

The U.S. is the largest source of financial support to the WHO and its exit is expected to significantly weaken the organization. President Trump said the U.S. would be “redirecting” the money to “other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs,” without providing specifics.

Last month, House Republicans urged the Trump administration to reconsider its decision, arguing that the U.S. could do more to implement change as a member.

But according to the Associated Press, it remained unclear whether the president can unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from WHO without approval from Congress.

Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said in tweets that President Trump’s move is “unlawful” because ending funding requires Congress, which has already authorized the money. He called it “dangerous” because “we’re in the middle of a pandemic.”

“Trump has no power to do it,” Gostin wrote.

The action comes as the U.S. leads the world in both confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths — approaching nearly 3 million cases and 131,000 deaths, respectively. Dozens of states have also delayed reopenings or moved to re-close businesses amid an uptick in confirmed cases over recent weeks.

The Trump administration has faced criticism for a botched U.S. response to the outbreak, including testing delays and lack of critical personal protective equipment for health care workers.

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.