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Hillary Clinton slams Trump response to coronavirus, withdrawal from WHO

Former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

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WASHINGTON — Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton bashed the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and slammed its decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization.

“There’s a lot of really important work that needs to be done, and the United States has to be in the middle of it, it cannot sit on the sidelines being indifferent, or even contemptuous of international efforts and expect that we’re going to benefit ourselves,” Clinton told a virtual audience during an interview hosted by the Atlantic Council.

“We should be having intense diplomatic conversations with health experts, logistics experts and others about how we are going to finally get to a safe and effective vaccine or perhaps even more than one, and then manage the distribution of it so that we try to bring the world together around defeating the pandemic, not permit the vaccine nationalism that is taking place right now,” Clinton said.

Last month, the Trump administration submitted to the U.N. secretary-general its notice to withdraw from the World Health Organization by July 6, 2021, a senior administration official confirmed to CNBC.

The notice to the United Nations was the first step in a yearlong process that will rely on several factors outside of Trump’s control, including cooperation from Congress and the president’s own reelection in November, neither of which are assured.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has previously said that he would have the U.S. rejoin the WHO on day one of his presidency, were he to defeat Trump this November.

Earlier this month, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he hopes the United States will reconsider its decision to leave the United Nations’ health organization, adding that the coronavirus can’t be defeated “in a divided world.” 

“The problem is not about the money. It’s not the financing that’s the issue. It’s actually the relationship with the U.S. that’s more important and its leadership abroad,” Ghebreyesus told a virtual audience at the Aspen Security Forum. 

The Trump administration’s move to withdraw from the WHO comes as coronavirus cases reach nearly 5.5 million in the United States, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Worldwide, the virus has infected about 21.7 million and killed more than 775,900. At least 170,000 have died in the U.S. alone. 

“Let us hope that individual nations will learn lessons. But let us also hope that collectively we can put together a more robust and quick international response and get every nation to buy into it, so that you don’t have the role of any nation in the midst of a potential pandemic be too, you know, shut down and exclude investigation from international experts. We need to be more open and transparent,” Clinton said.

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2020.

Denis Balibouse | Reuters

In April, Trump said that he had suspended U.S. funding to the organization pending a review, citing what he called “the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”

A month later, he announced his intentions to leave the organization amid the coronavirus pandemic, citing what he called the WHO’s misuse of funding and its cozy relationship with China.

“China has total control over the World Health Organization, despite only paying $40 million per year compared to what the United States has been paying, which is approximately $450 million a year,” Trump explained during remarks in the Rose Garden.

“We have detailed the reforms that it must make and engage with them directly, but they have refused to act. Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving, urgent, global public health needs,” he added at the time.

On the heels of Trump’s Rose Garden remarks in May, the State Department began redirecting funds from the World Health Organization to other global health organizations. 

“The President has been clear that the WHO needs to get its act together. That starts with demonstrating significant progress and the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks with transparency and accountability,” a State Department spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement to CNBC in July. 

“The United States will continue efforts to reform the WHO and other international organizations to ensure they operate with transparency, fulfill their mandates, and hold governments accountable for their commitments under international law.”

But Clinton warned that the administration’s hard-line approach would not help solve the crisis facing the nation. 

“I would wish that rather than the behavior we’re currently seeing from the Trump administration we would see a more thoughtful smart engaged cooperative effort because that’s what it’s going to take.”

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Read more: U.S. charges two Chinese nationals in coronavirus vaccine hacking scheme, other crimes

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