1 1 (June 05, 2020)

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Withdrawal from the World Health

Organization: Legal Basis and Implications



June 5, 2020
On May 30, 2020, President Trump announced that he plans to terminate the United States' relationship
with the World Health Organization (WHO). This Sidebar assumes that terminate means to withdraw
from the WHO (as opposed to, for instance, stop sending funds to the WHO), and addresses the legal
framework that applies to the President's authority and Congress's role in a potential withdrawal from the
WHO.


Background

On January 30, 2020, the WHO declared a public health emergency caused by the coronavirus disease.
Some U.S. officials have expressed dissatisfaction with how the WHO has handled the crisis. In April
2020, President Trump announced that the United States would suspend funding to the WHO and, on May
18, 2020, sent a letter to the WHO Director-General, indicating his Administration may make such
funding freezes permanent and may reconsider U.S. participation in the organization. On May 30, 2020,
President Trump announced his intention to terminate the United States' relationship with the WHO.


The President's Authority to Withdraw the United States

from the WHO Without Congressional Action

An initial question is whether the President has the authority to terminate the United States' international
obligations under the WHO Constitution and withdraw the United States from the WHO without further
action from Congress. This question has two related parts: (1) whether, under international law, the
President may terminate U.S. international obligations under the WHO Constitution without
congressional approval; and (2) whether, under domestic law, the President, relying on constitutional or
statutory authority, may unilaterally terminate U.S. international obligations under the WHO Constitution.





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