Lawmakers look to reaffirm U.S. commitment to global health, amid coronavirus


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican and Democratic U.S. senators will introduce legislation on Friday seeking to reaffirm the country’s commitment to global health amid the coronavirus crisis, including reestablishing a panel – similar to one disbanded by President Donald Trump – charged with preparing for pandemics.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney and Democrat Chris Murphy will introduce a bill, seen by Reuters, that would establish a Global Health Security Interagency Review Council, and a U.S. Coordinator for Global Health Security – to be appointed by Trump – from the National Security Council.

As Trump’s administration worked to downsize the NSC, which advises the president on security issues, it disbanded the council’s pandemic directorate in 2018.

Some critics have said the absence of such a directorate contributed to the sluggish U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak. Trump and administration officials have rejected such assertions and said they acted quickly to save lives while blaming other entities, including China’s government and the World Health Organization, for much of the crisis.

The council proposed in the legislation would meet at least four times per year, provide recommendations on global health security and, among other things, review U.S. financial commitments to global health security efforts. The bill also calls for regular reports to Congress about global health security strategy and spending.

In statements emailed to Reuters, both senators said the country needed to be better prepared for pandemics.

“Our experience with coronavirus has exposed some glaring gaps in our nation’s capacity to respond to a pandemic, and it is critical that we are better prepared to coordinate global responses and exert leadership to address future health threats,” Romney said. 

“The United States cannot prevent pandemics like COVID-19 from devastating our country if we don’t adequately prepare and plan,” Murphy said.

Romney and Murphy are both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A similar bill, also with bipartisan support, was passed by the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in March.

The senators were to introduce the bill days after Trump – echoed by many of his fellow Republicans in the U.S. Congress – lashed out at the World Health Organization, accusing it of being too focused on China and issuing bad advice during the coronavirus outbreak.

Trump said he would put a hold on U.S. funding for the agency, although he and other administration officials later said they were re-evaluating U.S. funding to the body.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Leslie Adler