Two senior U.S. officials defended the United States’ absence from a global coronavirus conference on Monday, arguing during a tense press briefing that the U.S. government has already pledged billions to fight the pandemic.
World leaders pledged over $8 billion for research into the coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19, at the Coronavirus Global Response International Pledging Conference. The virtual conference was hosted by several European countries, Japan, Canada, and Saudi Arabia, but the United States was conspicuously absent.
“It is a pity the U.S. is not a part of it. When you are in a crisis, you manage it and you do it jointly with others,” Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg said at the conference.
A senior State Department and senior Trump administration official held a briefing with journalists on the international coronavirus response soon after. Participants agreed not to name the official as a condition of participating.
“The U.S. is leading international coordination on the global fight against COVID-19 through the [Group of Seven] presidency, mobilizing unprecedented international coordination across health, finance, humanitarian assistance, science, and technology sectors,” the State Department official said.
“The United States is the single-largest health and humanitarian donor in the world, and we continue to be the most generous, transparent, and reliable international partner for health and humanitarian aid,” the official continued. “As the global leader in providing foreign assistance to combat COVID-19, the United States welcomes other high-quality, transparent contributions from donors all over the world to join the fight against this pandemic.”
Matt Lee of the Associated Press said that he was “struck by the kind of defensive nature of this call” and asked why the United States did not attend the Monday conference.
“The United States is in the process of providing $2.4 billion in global health, humanitarian, and economic assistance towards the COVID-19 response, and we continue to ensure that the substantial U.S. funding and scientific efforts on this front remain an essential and coordinated part of this worldwide effort against COVID-19,” the senior Trump administration official said.
Other reporters were unsatisfied with the response and continued to press the question. The senior administration official repeatedly emphasized that the Trump administration “welcomes” the European Union’s funding efforts.
“Can you say without quoting statistics at us or talking around it why the U.S. decided not to send someone to this conference today? It’s not a difficult question,” asked Christina Ruffini of CBS News.
“I’ve provided the answer,” the administration official responded.
“You have not provided the answer, which is why we’ve asked it four times,” Ruffini responded.
The briefing moved onto the question of the World Health Organization (WHO) funding, which the Trump administration cut last month in response to allegations of Chinese meddling.
“We give more resources to [the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund] and to several other multilateral organizations than we do to WHO, and a lot of our NGO partners and contractors also receive more of our assistance than WHO does,” the administration official said. “It’s something that we make sure that we are constantly re-evaluating on a regular basis to make sure that the American people get the best results for every dollar, and that’s what we’re continuing to do.”
Matthew Petti is a national security reporter at the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter: @matthew_petti.