President Trump lashed out on Tuesday at the World Health Organization, choosing a new political enemy to attack and threatening to withhold funding from a premier health institution even as a deadly virus ravages nations around the globe.
“We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the W.H.O., we’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we’re going to see,” Mr. Trump said during the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House, accusing the organization of having not been aggressive enough in confronting the virus. “They called it wrong. They call it wrong. They really, they missed the call.”
In effect, Mr. Trump sought to denounce the W.H.O. for the very missteps and failures that have been leveled at him and his administration. Public health experts have said the president’s public denials of the virus’s dangers slowed the American response, which included delayed testing and a failure to stockpile protective gear.
In fact, the W.H.O. sounded the alarm in the earliest days of the crisis, declaring a “public health emergency of international concern” a day before the United States secretary of health and human services announced the country’s own public health emergency and weeks before Mr. Trump declared a national emergency.
After saying flatly that the United States had decided to “put a hold” on the organization’s money, the president later denied that he had made those remarks and appeared to back down. “I’m not saying that I’m going to do it. But we’re going to look at it,” he said.
When a reporter noted that he had indeed said the funding would end, Mr. Trump insisted, wrongly: “No, I didn’t. I said we’re going to look at it.”
The president appeared to be particularly angry at the W.H.O. for issuing a statement saying it did not support his decision on Jan. 31 to limit some travel from China because of the virus.
At the time, the group said that “restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions.”
“Don’t close your borders to China, don’t do this,” Mr. Trump said, paraphrasing the statement and accusing the organization of “not seeing” the outbreak when it was first detected in Wuhan, China. “They didn’t see it. How do you not see it? They didn’t see it. They didn’t report it. If they did see it, they must have seen it, but they didn’t report it.”
In fact, the W.H.O. repeatedly issued warnings about the emergence of the virus in China and its spread across the world.