Hawley, Scott introduce bill to withhold taxpayer money to WHO until reforms made

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Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rick Scott of Flordia have introduced a bill to withhold U.S. taxpayer funds from the World Health Organization until it makes leadership reforms.

The legislation introduced Tuesday called the World Health Organization (WHO) Accountability Act aims to hold the WHO accountable for what the senators allege to be playing a role in China's early coverup of the COVID-19 pandemic when it was just starting to spread through China.

"Time and again, [WHO] has prioritized advancing the Chinese Communist Party's interests over building a healthier world," Hawley said in a Tuesday statement, naming WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and "other WHO leaders" as those who "must be held accountable for this dereliction of duty."

He added that "the WHO must undertake comprehensive reform before it is allowed to benefit from U.S. tax dollars once again."

President Biden announced on his first day in office that he would reinstate the United States' relationship with WHO after former President Trump cut ties with the organization over its early handling of COVID-19 and alleged bias toward China. The U.S. had previously been a top contributor to the WHO, donating about $450 million a year.

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Scott said in a statement that WHO has "failed" at its mission to spread public information about coronavirus to the world.

"Last February, I called on the WHO to do its own in-depth analysis on the extent and origins of the coronavirus. It took them nearly a year to take action and we still have no answer," Scott said. "They have even dropped their investigation into whether COVID-19 leaked from Wuhan lab."

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A WHO team investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic called it "unlikely" that the virus leaked from a lab near Wuhan, China, during a news conference on Tuesday.

Instead, coronavirus likely spread from an animal to humans, WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek said. The WHO and China have faced strong criticism from around the world over their pandemic response, as China blocked WHO investigators from entering Wuhan for months; they finally arrived in mid-January of this year.

Peter Daszak (R), Thea Fischer (L) and other members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, arrive at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

The bill would withhold U.S. taxpayer dollars from WHO until it replaces its top leadership as of Jan. 1 and accepts Taiwan as a member state, and limit funding to match the top contributor. China refuses to allow Taiwan to join, saying doing so would violate its "One China" policy.

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"The WHO also needs to answer for its refusal to include Taiwan in its membership, meetings, and information, especially in the face of the coronavirus. They are complicit in Communist China's effort to isolate Taiwan," Scott said. "There is no reason U.S. taxpayers should be spending hundreds of millions a year, more than any other country, to fund the WHO without significant reform."

WHO did not designate the novel coronavirus as a "public health emergency of international concern" until Jan. 30, though it tweeted about a "cluster of pneumonia cases" in Wuhan on Jan. 4.

Chinese President Xi Jinping waited until Jan. 20 to publicly acknowledge the virus, despite the fact that hospitalizations were occurring as early as Jan. 4.

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The timeline of initial COVID-19 reporting became even more blurred later on.

The U.N.-backed global health body came under scrutiny in July for changing its timeline of COVID-19 events after disclosing that it initially heard about the virus outbreak from the Internet in late December 2019, not from Beijing officials in January 2020, as it had long insisted.

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP)

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP)

According to multiple reports, the revisions were made on the WHO website on June 29, adding fuel to the fire that the Chinese leadership long purported to cover up the new virus and that WHO assisted them in doing so.

The revised text said that on Dec. 31, 2019, "WHO's Country Office in the People's Republic of China picked up a media statement by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission from their website on cases of 'viral pneumonia' in Wuhan, People's Republic of China" but added that "the WHO's open-source intelligence platform also picked up a Chinese-language news report from Finance Sina, a Chinese outlet, about the same cluster of cases in Wuhan, attributed to a 'pneumonia of unknown cause."

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WHO previously said its first knowledge of the coronavirus stemmed from an alert issued by the Wuhan municipal health commission, the AFP noted. However, the timeline modification now clarifies that the first notification came from WHO's Beijing office rather than from Beijing authorities.

The organization is still investigating the origins of COVID-19 and have suggested that it likely spread from an animal to humans.

Fox News' Hollie McKay and Evie Fordham contributed to this report.

Audrey Conklin Fox News