MURPHY: TRUMP IS GIFTING CHINA POWER AND INFLUENCE BY REFUSING TO TAKE PART IN THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION AND GLOBAL EFFORTS TO FIND A COVID-19 VACCINE

“This is a moment when we should be putting a foot forward into the world, and leading. There is no wall, there is no travel restriction that can stop this virus.”

WASHINGTON—Just hours after President Trump threatened to permanently leave the World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Tuesday blasted the Trump administration for abdicating U.S. leadership in the fight against COVID-19 and Senate Republicans’ refusal to allow for a simple vote on Senator Durbin’s resolution to reaffirm America’s commitment to global vaccine efforts. Murphy argues that by threatening to pull out of the WHO and failing to take part in global efforts to find a COVID-19 vaccine, Trump is hurting U.S. national security and allowing China to increase its power and influence.

Murphy said: “…[T]here is in fact an international effort underway to help pay for that vaccine development. Probably the most prominent of those efforts is something called CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. But curiously, though all of our friends, all of our allies, some of our adversaries are members of that coalition—the United States is not. And so, if this coalition were to develop a vaccine, if they were to get there before the United States, then we don't have a seat at the table to try to decide where that vaccine goes.”

“I hope that the dollars that we've appropriated here in the United States Senate lead to the discovery of a vaccine happening here. But if it doesn't, why would we not also want to be part of a coalition like CEPI so that if they discover the vaccine first, we get the benefit of it, or at the very least we get a say in where it goes? And that's all this resolution said, and yet we couldn't get it passed,” Murphy continued.

Murphy also blasted Trump’s threat to withdraw from the WHO: “Remember, how we stopped Ebola from becoming a crisis in the United States is by being present in Africa to make sure that it didn't reach our shores. The Obama administration understood that travel bans and walls can't stop a virus from entering your country. So you have to stamp it out everywhere in order to be protected here. And so, just at the moment when we need to be more engaged with the world, the Trump administration is withdrawing us from it.”

“There was no more enthusiastic cheerleader for China and its response to coronavirus in January, February and March than our own president. If President Trump wants to level criticisms at the WHO for being too soft on China, he has to look himself in the mirror and understand that it frankly would have been hard for the WHO to stand up and contradict its most important donor and patron, the United States of America,” Murphy continued.

Murphy concluded: “…I believe that our security will be defined by our ability to contest efforts by China to grow its power around the world. We are gifting them, gifting them an advancement of their power and influence through our refusal to take part in the WHO, our refusal to lead the effort to reform it, and our refusal, as called upon in this resolution that was objected to earlier today offered by Senator Durbin to be part of a global effort to try to find the vaccine.”

Murphy has advocated for an increase in our global health funding since the start of COVID-19, and cautioned against creating a vacuum for others—like China—to fill. Murphy authored an op-ed in Foreign Policy about what must be improved before the next pandemic strikes, and has also written about the need to empower the World Health Organization as a way to strengthen our anti-pandemic response in War on the Rocks. Murphy blasted the Trump administration’s decision to cut off funding for the WHO during COVID-19, as China pledged an additional $2 billion in our absence. Murphy has also blasted the Trump administration’s China policy, arguing in a USA Today op-ed that Trump has strengthened President Xi’s hand at every turn.

Full transcript of Murphy’s remarks are below:

“Thank you very much. Thank you, Madam President. I want to concur in the remarks of my friend from Michigan.

“You know, a lot of our constituents have long thought that there is just an enormous gulf between the conversations that we have in the United States Senate and the conversations that are going on at people's kitchen tables, going on between friends and neighbors at the supermarket.

“They think that what we worry about here is guided by lobbyists and K street and Political Action Committees and really doesn't have much to do with what they care about. And I don't know that their perception of that gulf has been any bigger than it is right now.

“Because the message that Senator McConnell and Senate Republicans are sending is that there is no urgency, there is no need for the Senate to act, that we've done everything that needs to be done for the time being when it comes to the depression levels of unemployment in this country.

“The lines going around blocks to pick up groceries for families that can't afford food, the schools that are scrambling to figure out how the heck they are going to reopen schools with revenues for their municipalities, and counties, and states cratering through the floor.

“And so it just tears people's hair out right now that there is a piece of legislation passed the House of Representatives that will help millions of families who are in meltdown crisis right now, as they have lost their job, they maybe have a sick loved one and they don't know when life is getting back to normal, and the Senate is doing nothing.

“Now, I understand my Senate Republican friends wouldn't write the bill that passed the House. And that's understandable—different party in control of the Senate than in control of the House of Representatives. Of course, there's going to be a difference in priorities.

“But the decision to not even take up the House bill, to not try to amend it, to not try to draft a version of our own to fill these just enormous gaps that families are feeling right now. It is maddening to the people that I represent back home who feel that sense of urgency that is not shared by the folks who haven't lost their salary or their health care benefits in the United States Senate.

“Earlier today, we tried to take a small step forward to better protect our constituents and try to bring this pandemic to an end. Senator Durbin offered a pretty simple resolution that would have just expressed the sense of the Senate that we should join with nations around the world to try to develop a vaccine for COVID.

“I don't agree with the president. I don't think that it is all hopeless until we find vaccine. I think that we can take steps in our communities through state leaders to try to reopen our economy even before we have a vaccine, but obviously, that's the goal that we all strive for. And we are much better off.

“If we are working with other countries to develop that vaccine, there are very promising discoveries that as we speak, are being made in other countries, many of them allies of the United States. And there is in fact an international effort underway to help pay for that vaccine development. Probably the most prominent of those efforts is something called CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

“But curiously, though, all of our friends, all of our allies, some of our adversaries are members of that coalition, the United States is not.

“And so, if this coalition were to develop a vaccine, if they were to get there before the United States, then we don't have a seat at the table to try to decide where that vaccine goes. It is a question as to whether we would be able to get it to the United States, if we're not sitting at that table.

“Why not hedge our bets? I hope that the dollars that we've appropriated here in the United States Senate lead to the discovery of a vaccine happening here. But if it doesn't, why would we not also want to be part of a coalition like CEPI so that if they discover the vaccine first, we get the benefit of it, or at the very least we get a say in where it goes? And that's all this resolution said, and yet we couldn't get it passed.

“This resolution was especially important because there is something extraordinary happening right now. It is not as if the Trump administration has decided that they are not going to go forward with membership in CEPI because they are going to lead a different international coalition. No. In fact, the Trump administration is taking a giant step back from the world and from international organizations just at the moment when it is most necessary for us to be cooperating with the rest of the world in finding a vaccine, or stamping out this virus.

“Remember how we stopped Ebola from becoming a crisis in the United States is by being present in Africa to make sure that it didn't reach our shores. The Obama administration understood that travel bans and walls can't stop a virus from entering your country. So you have to stamp it out everywhere in order to be protected here.

“And so, just at the moment when we need to be more engaged with the world, the Trump administration is withdrawing us from it. Witness the president's unprecedented attacks on the WHO.  

“Now, stipulation, the WHO is not unlike any other major multinational international organization. They have flaws. They have inefficiencies. But, there is no way that you can stand up an international coalition to manage coronavirus or prevent the next pandemic without the World Health Organization.

“And color me skeptical that the president is sincerely interested in reforming the WHO. It seems as if it has been a fairly recent interest of the White House. And one of the ways I can tell that is that we have a seat on the governing board of the WHO.

“If we have legitimate grievances over how the WHO is run, and I am amongst those who has a laundry list of reforms I would like to see at the WHO, then the proper way to express those grievances would be through our seat on the board of the WHO. But, you know what? It's been vacant for three years.

“The Trump Administration hasn't put anybody on the board. They nominated somebody but then Senator McConnell didn't bring them up for a vote, and then his name had to be withdrawn, and it took another 10 months for the Senate to finally put somebody on it in the middle of this crisis. And so, we've been absent from the WHO for three years.

“But now, the Trump administration is leveling some pretty serious criticisms at that organization. Many of them crystallized in a letter that the president released to the world last night. And what is extraordinary about this letter, is that it is almost as if the president took a letter that detailed his administration's failings with respect to how it addressed the early moments of coronavirus and just substituted in the WHO for the Trump administration.

“Because in this letter to the WHO, it says: ‘The World Health Organization has repeatedly made claims about the coronavirus that were either grossly inaccurate or misleading.’ Here's President Trump on January 22nd: Question, ‘Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?...’No, not at all. We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine.’

“You want to talk about the leading world figure making misstatements about the seriousness of coronavirus? It was President Donald Trump—especially in January and February when we could have been getting a head start.

“Further in this letter, it says ‘The World Health Organization has been curiously insistent on praising China for its alleged transparency.’ Here's President Donald J. Trump on January 24th, this isn't an answer to a question, this is just an unsolicited remark about China on his Twitter account. He says, ‘China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!’

“There was no more enthusiastic cheerleader for China and its response to coronavirus in January, February and March than our own president. If President Trump wants to level criticisms at the WHO for being too soft on China, he has to look himself in the mirror and understand that it frankly would have been hard for the WHO to stand up and contradict its most important donor and patron, the United States of America.

“On February 7th, the president was given this question: ‘Are you concerned that China is covering up the full extent of coronavirus?’ President Trump's answer – no, China is working very hard. ‘They're working really hard, and I think they are doing a very professional job.’

“February 18th, ‘Mr. President, are you still satisfied with how President Xi is handling the coronavirus?" ‘I think President Xi is working very hard.’ Question, ‘Some people don’t seem to trust the data coming out of China. Are you worried about that?" "Look, I know this: President Xi loves the people of China, he loves his country, and he’s doing a very good job.’

“February 26th, ‘How can you legitimately trust President Xi and the Chinese?’ – the question is. ‘Well, I can tell you this. I speak to him. I had a talk with him recently. He's working hard on this problem. They're tough and very smart.’

“There was no one who is defending China more vociferously in January and February than President Trump. It came on the heels of his decision to pull out two-thirds of CDC scientists out of that country, to shutter a program that was tracking viruses around the world, including China. 

“And now, the president has compounded that error by pulling the United States out of the WHO, an imperfect but absolutely necessary body that can be the only natural source of convening for a fight to stop coronavirus over the course of this summer and this fall and to prevent the next pandemic.

“This is a moment when we should be putting a foot forward into the world and leading, and leading. There is no wall; there is no travel restriction that can stop this virus. Why do we know that? Because the president crowed about his travel restriction on China and we found out that 400,000 people got here from countries subject to the ban before and after it was put into effect. He sends out pictures on a regular basis of a wall going up with Mexico, that didn't stop this virus from getting here. We need to be present in the world stage right now.

“And finally, Madam President, if the president's complaint is that China and the WHO are too close, then by withdrawing from the who we are effectively exacerbating the problem that the president identifies as one that needs to be solved. Why? Because yesterday, President Xi accepted an invitation to speak before the WHO, an invitation that President Trump turned down, and he pledged to lead the world's response to the humanitarian suffering caused by coronavirus.

“Now, color me skeptical about China's intentions. But the fact is they were on that world stage putting $2 billion into that effort yesterday, and we were nowhere to be found. The greatest beneficiary that comes from the United States stepping back at this moment, walking away from the WHO, is the Chinese government.

“Now, I believe that our security will be defined by our ability to contest efforts by China to grow its power around the world. We are gifting them, gifting them an advancement of their power and influence through our refusal to take part in the WHO, our refusal to lead the effort to reform it, and our refusal, as called upon in this resolution that was objected to earlier today offered by Senator Durbin to be part of a global effort to try to find the vaccine.

“I yield the floor.”

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