President Donald Trump speaks about coronavirus. Picture: Alex Brandon/AP
President Donald Trump speaks about coronavirus. Picture: Alex Brandon/AP

Trump’s stunning threat to close Congress

US President Donald Trump has threatened to use his constitutional powers to adjourn Congress, telling the Democrats "they've been warned".

In a press conference, Mr Trump said there had been a "concerted effort" by congressional Democrats to "make life difficult" and stop him making recess appointments to recommend judges.

"Whether it's Russia Russia Russia, or whether its impeachment hoax … it's always a waste of time," he told reporters outside the White House.

 

"We have been trying to get people approved for positions … they're taking so long to approve our judges.

"I have a very strong power, I'd rather not use that power. We have over 100 people who should've been approved a long time ago … it's embarrassing and it's because of the Democrats."

It would be the first time a US President used their constitutional power to adjourn the House and Senate and Mr Trump said he expected a court fight.

"We'll probably be challenged in court and we'll see who wins … they've been warned."

 

President Trump speaks from the White House today.
President Trump speaks from the White House today.

 

Mr Trump also announced yesterday the US would immediately halt funding the global health body until a full review could be conducted, accusing it of "severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus".

The US is the biggest single contributor to the United Nations' health agency, with the announcement blowing a massive chunk of WHO's funding.

Despite the criticism, Mr Trump doubled down on his accusations against the global health authority today.

"I have a feeling they knew exactly what was going on," he said in a press conference.

"Tragically other nations put their trust in the World Health Organisation."

Mr Trump used Italy, France as Spain as "examples" of countries that followed advice from WHO.

"They failed to control their borders … quickly unleashing the contagion around the world."

Mr Trump again appeared to suggest the agency knew more about coronavirus than it is letting on.

"It was a horrible mistake, or perhaps they knew … I'm sure they didn't know the gravity of it," he said.

China has since responded to Mr Trump's announcement.

"China expresses serious concerns over the decision by the US," foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a briefing in Beijing yesterday.

"The decision of the US will weaken the WHO's ability to handle the pandemic, especially the nations whose capabilities are not well developed.

"China will as always support the WHO in playing an important role in international public health and global anti-epidemic response."

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose foundation is the second biggest contributor to WHO, described Mr Trump's announcement as "dangerous".

 

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also expressed dismay that Mr Trump had stopped the funding in the middle of a pandemic.

"WHO is not only fighting COVID-19," Dr Tedros said. "We're also working to address polio, measles, malaria, ebola, H.I.V., tuberculosis, malnutrition, cancer, diabetes, mental health and many other diseases and conditions.

"This is a time for all of us to be united in our common struggle against a common threat, a dangerous enemy.

"WHO is reviewing the impact on our work of any withdrawal of US funding and will work with our partners to fill any financial gaps we face."

Mr Trump claimed the COVID-19 outbreak could have been contained "with very little death" if WHO had accurately assessed the situation in China, where the virus broke out.

Its epicentre is now the United States, where the death toll has climbed above 26,000, with more than 600,000 infections.

Worldwide, the pandemic has killed more than 130,000 people and infected at least two million.

Mr Trump said US taxpayers provided between $US400 million ($A635 million) and $US500 million ($A793 million) per year to WHO, while "in contrast, China contributes roughly $40 million ($63 million) a year and even less".

The pulling of funding added to last week's charge from Mr Trump that the global health authority was "very China-centric" despite Washington's heavy funding.

 

THE WHO BUDGET

The WHO's finances are organised in two-year cycles.

The WHO's budget for the 2018 and 2019 two-year bracket was $US5.62 billion ($A8.9 billion), of which $US4.3 billion ($A6.8 billion) was in specified voluntary contributions, according to figures now updated until the fourth quarter of 2019.

Looking at the specified voluntary contributions that have been fully distributed is one way of making comparisons between the contributions of donors to the WHO.

In this sector, the United States is the biggest contributor with $US553.1 million ($A877 million), or 14.67 per cent of the total specified voluntary contributions that ended up being fully distributed.

The money, which can often be highly earmarked for particular projects, is paid out throughout the year as projects and needs arise.

The next biggest contributors are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (9.76 per cent), the GAVI vaccines alliance (8.39 per cent), Britain (7.79 per cent) and Germany (5.68 per cent).

They are followed by the United Nations Office for the co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (5.09 per cent), the World Bank (3.42 per cent), Rotary International (3.3 per cent), the European Commission (3.3 per cent) and Japan (2.73 per cent).

China's contribution of $US7.9 million ($A12.5 million) amounted to 0.21 per cent of the total - behind Luxembourg (0.3 per cent) and Pakistan (0.36 per cent).

 

ASSESSED CONTRIBUTIONS

Assessed contributions are the dues countries pay to be a WHO member. They are calculated relative to the country's wealth and population and payable as of January 1.

At $US957 million ($1.5 billion) in the last budget cycle, assessed contributions are the second-biggest tranche of the WHO's funding.

The United States contributed $US237 million ($A376 million), nearly 25 per cent of the total. China contributed $US76 million ($A120 million), or 8 per cent of the total.

"The WHO is only one multilateral structure among others; China's influence is significant within the UN system - and it's not just about its financial contribution," Alice Ekman, the senior Asia analyst at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, told AFP.

- with AFP

Originally published as Trump's stunning threat to close Congress


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