The Effects Of Trump’s Threats To Cut Funds From International Organizations

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly talks with the Washington Post‘s Philip Rucker about President Trump’s frequent threats to cut funds from organizations he disagrees with — and whether they work or not.


MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Cue a familiar refrain from throughout the presidency of Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization.

More money will be spent on NATO, and we’re not going up, by the way.

I’d withhold again, and I’ll continue to withhold until…

I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them.

KELLY: The latest iteration appeared last night on Twitter, when the president threatened to cut funding to the World Health Organization permanently. The president says he wants changes to the organization. He did not specify what changes. We do know that while the WHO is the latest target, threatening to cut money is one of the president’s favorite tactics. So does it work? Well, let’s put that to Phil Rucker of The Washington Post. He is their White House bureau chief and co-author of the book “A Very Stable Genius.”

Phil, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PHIL RUCKER: Thanks for having me, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So grabbing headlines by threatening to cut off money, as we note, is a tried and true Trump move. In this case with the WHO, is he serious?

RUCKER: You know, if we take him at his word, he appears to be serious. Whether he follows through with the threat to permanently revoke funding and effectively withdraw the United States from that international organization is to be determined. That would be a pretty dramatic move on the part of the United States, especially in the middle of the pandemic. And it would open a huge opportunity for China to assume that mantle of global leadership.

KELLY: He, during the pandemic, has also threatened to cut funding to the CDC. I’m curious. To put it to you, as someone who covers this White House every day, what are some of the other standout examples? I mean, I personally have lost track, for example, of how many times he’s threatened to cut funding to NATO.

RUCKER: Yeah. Well, the threat to cut funding to the CDC is interesting because the CDC is his own government. That’s an American institution. You know, he has threatened again and again to cut funding from NATO and, in fact, has followed through with that threat to some degree. He’s even threatened to withdraw entirely from NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but has never actually followed through with that.

And what we’ve seen in a pattern in this presidency is that Trump will make these big, bold, bombastic threats in order to gain leverage in the middle of a negotiation or to draw attention to himself but then rarely actually follows through. It’s a tactic he practiced in the real estate world, of course, and now is applying it to global politics.

KELLY: All right. You’re reminding us that he was a businessman before he turned politician. And you anticipate my next question, which was the question of follow-through. Or is the threat a tool in and of itself? It diverts blame. It draws attention to him. And then the news cycle moves on, and normal business often resumes.

RUCKER: You know, President Trump often makes most of his decisions based on his domestic political situation, what he thinks is going to make himself look good to the American people and increase his popularity. And when it comes to the World Health Organization, he for weeks now has built them up as the culprit, so to speak, in this coronavirus pandemic as the organization that’s to blame. He has accused the WHO of being too sympathetic to China and of not doing a rigorous enough job trying to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. And so threatening to withdraw funding from the WHO creates a boogeyman in the eyes of his political supporters here at home.

KELLY: That is Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief for The Washington Post.

Great to have you back.

RUCKER: Thank you so much.

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