U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) introduced legislation in the upper chamber this month that they say would be a safeguard of American sovereignty against the World Health Organization (WHO).
“This legislation would require any convention or agreement resulting from the work of the [WHO’s] intergovernmental negotiating body be deemed a treaty, requiring the advice and consent of a supermajority of the Senate,” according to a Feb. 27 statement published on Blackburn’s website. The proposed legislation is named the “No WHO Pandemic Preparedness Treaty Without Senate Approval Act.”
The lawmakers’ statement was part of a longstanding effort of some Republicans to push back against what they call “infringements on personal liberties and freedoms” in the name of COVID-19 response.
Johnson introduced a previous version of the bill in the Senate on May 26, 2022. It was read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, according to the Senate’s website. Johnson re-introduced the bill on Feb. 17, according to a statement on Johnson’s website.
“The legislation comes as the WHO continues to move the pandemic treaty process forward and is expected to formally present a draft to member states later this month,” the statement reads.
The WHO Agreement
The pandemic treaty in question is related to ongoing U.S.-WHO efforts to adopt additional international health measures after the COVID-19 pandemic started. A major part of these efforts is reflected in a draft agreement the WHO published on its website in February 2023 named “WHO CA+” (pdf), which came as a product of a “Strategic Dialogue” between the United States and the WHO beginning in September 2022.
The agreement says it recognizes “the central role of WHO as the directing and coordinating authority” on pandemic-related international health work, including “pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and health systems recovery at national, regional and international levels.”
The WHO draft agreement also says the agreement “should be legally binding and contain both legally binding as well as non-legally binding elements.”
It is unclear, at least officially, how the WHO agreement would impact U.S. public health policy if passed.
Case precedents give Congress the authority to make and implement laws pursuant to treaties—such as what would become the WHO agreement—which can supersede state laws (Missouri v. Holland), and allow the U.S. President to sign legally binding “executive agreements,” with the force of treaties, with foreign nations without Senate consent (United States v. Belmont).
“In recent decades, presidents have frequently entered the United States into international agreements without the advice and consent of the Senate. These are called ‘executive agreements.’ Though not brought before the Senate for approval, executive agreements are still binding on the parties under international law,” reads an explanation on the Senate’s website.
With their legislation proposed on Monday, the GOP lawmakers are proposing the requirement that any agreements, including executive agreements, made with the WHO are subject to approval of a supermajority, or two-thirds, of the Senate.
“The WHO, along with our federal health agencies, failed miserably in their response to COVID-19. This failure should not be rewarded with a new international treaty that would increase the WHO’s power at the expense of American sovereignty,” Johnson wrote. “I’m proud to reintroduce this legislation to hold the WHO accountable for their failures and increase transparency for the American people. The sovereignty of the United States is not negotiable.”
While the lawmakers assert that U.S. sovereignty will be impacted by the WHO agreement, the Biden administration denies that the WHO’s agreement will give the international body any authority to direct U.S. health policy.
“It is false to claim that the World Health Organization has now, or will have by virtue of these activities, any authority to direct U.S. health policy or national health emergency response actions,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services wrote in a statement to the press, referring to WHO’s draft agreement. “The WHO has no such enforcement mechanisms, and its non-binding recommendations to member states are just that: non-binding. Any associated actions at the national level will remain reserved to sovereign states, including the United States.”
The WHO says the draft agreement, currently being negotiated by the 194 sovereign states that make up the WHO, allows the nations to make their own legislative and policy decisions.
“Sovereignty remains squarely with the countries which are responsible for setting health policies for their citizens,” a spokesperson for the WHO said in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times on Feb. 27. “As with all international instruments, any new accord, if and when agreed by Member States, would be determined by governments themselves, who would take any action while considering their own national laws and regulations.”
In the text of the proposed law (pdf), the lawmakers elaborated on why they believe the WHO mismanaged the pandemic, citing a letter that former President Donald Trump sent to the WHO in May 2020 before withdrawing from the agency, as well as further justifications for the proposed law.
“President Trump’s May 18 letter cited numerous instances of WHO mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, including—(A) unjustified delays informing member states about a potentially serious disease outbreak in Wuhan, China; and (B) repeatedly grossly inaccurate or misleading claims about the transmissibility of the virus and about the Government of China’s handling of the outbreak,” reads the proposed law.
Considering these factors, the legislation states, “the Senate strongly prefers that any agreement related to pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response adopted by the World Health Assembly pursuant to the work of the [intergovernmental negotiating body (INB)] be considered a treaty requiring the advice and consent of the Senate, with two-thirds of Senators concurring,” it continued. The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of the WHO, and the INB is the body that drafted the WHO’s agreement.
In the same statement, Blackburn echoed critics of the WHO who accuse the agency of abetting the Chinese regime in shedding accountability, as evidence mounted during the early stages of the pandemic that the pandemic could have initially spread from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
“The World Health Organization is a puppet for the Chinese Communist Party. Their mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic made it abundantly clear they should never have a say over America’s response to any crisis,” wrote Blackburn in the Feb. 27 statement.
“It’s time for President Biden to put the rights of the American people ahead of the corrupt public health ‘experts’ who are only interested in lining their pockets and amplifying Xi Jinping’s propaganda,” Blackburn continued.
Furthermore, Blackburn and Johnson pointed to a Feb. 26 Wall Street Journal article, which said that a classified intelligence report by the Energy Department judged that the virus most likely leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Energy Department’s conclusion, the lawmakers say, came “after the Biden administration repeatedly denied this assessment for years.”
“After the Biden administration’s failed COVID-19 response and the WHO’s mismanagement of the pandemic, Americans remain skeptical of continuing infringements on personal liberties and freedoms,” the lawmakers wrote. “The legislation would provide more transparency in WHO agreements and a constitutional check on the administration.”
Other co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) and Katie Britt (R-Ala.), according to the Feb. 27 statement.
The Epoch Times has contacted the White House for comment.