Sen. Coons on Trump’s attempt to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization: ‘We will be more successful reforming and reviewing the WHO's actions by remaining a part of it rather than stepping out of it’

Sen. Coons: Attorney General Barr and President Trump setting a ‘terrible precedent’ by ‘insisting on sending extra law enforcement to communities’ that do not request federal help 

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss his legislation to block the Trump administration’s attempt to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the President’s deployment of unmarked federal agents to U.S. cities despite strong opposition from mayors and governors. 

On President Trump’s attempt to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization, Sen. Coons said, “I think it's important that we recognize that President Trump continues to do things or say he will do things that he doesn't have the legal or constitutional authority to do. So frankly, what I'm trying to do is both make the point that in the middle of a pandemic this global organization that we helped create and fund and grow needs to be a key part of how we respond globally to the pandemic. There are reasons to be critical of its early response to this pandemic, but we will be more successful reforming and reviewing the WHO's actions by remaining a part of it rather than stepping out of it. This is just part of a long pattern of Trump's actions of withdrawal from virtually anything that is part of the global network of organizations and alliances we've built over seven decades that have provided a key platform for our security and prosperity and to advance our values.”

On the ongoing deployment of federal agents to cities like Portland and Chicago, Sen. Coons added,“That's setting a terrible precedent that the Attorney General and President are now doubling down on that and insisting on sending extra law enforcement to communities like Chicago where the mayor is saying, ‘you are not welcome on these terms.’ I think it’s setting a terrible precedent.”

Full audio and video available here

Q: Let me ask you first about we’re talking about this morning, and that is this plan introduced by the Justice Department and President Trump yesterday to send federal agents into some American cities to stop violence. They make a distinction between Portland where federal agents there are protecting federal property. In Chicago, for example, they say they're going in to stop the gun violence and to assist local police there. When you look at that from a constitutional perspective, when you look at that from the state's rights perspective, how are you viewing this Operation Legend put forward by the Justice Department? 

Sen. Coons: Well this strikes me, frankly, as a terrible idea for several different reasons. First, just practically, state and local law enforcement routinely participate in task forces with federal agents, but not by having federal law enforcement and federal agents forced upon them where they haven't asked for that help; where the mayor or the governor is not seeking that help. This is the first example in my adult service, my time in government, where I can remember the federal government forcing this assistance onto communities that are not asking for it. That also is the constitutional implication here as the previous segment was talking about, that there are very few instances in American history where there was federal action over the objection of a governor, in fact the only examples I can think of were either during the Civil War or during the Civil Rights Movement. This is a quite different thing where we’ve got the Mayor of Portland and the Governor of Oregon actively saying do not come into our community with unmarked federal agents. That's setting a terrible precedent that the Attorney General and President are now doubling down on that and insisting on sending extra law enforcement to communities like Chicago where the mayor is saying, ‘you are not welcome on these terms.’ I think it’s setting a terrible precedent. 

[…]

Q: Senator Coons, do you agree with some of your Republican colleagues who say that the closing of this consulate in Houston was long overdue; that’s the way that Marco Rubio put it. He said it's a ‘massive spy center.’ What do you make of the decision here? 

Sen. Coons: Well, I agree with what Richard just said that this simply invites further retaliation. There are ways that we can do effective counterintelligence and that we can limit the ways in which any particular consulate or site within the United States is a basis for IP theft or for intelligence gathering in this country, but I'm concerned about where the U.S.-China relationship is going. It seems to be headed towards a new Cold War, a deep decoupling of our countries. And to the point Richard made, we are a much more open society. We have relatively few avenues into China, relatively speaking. The Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping is more aggressive, is more expansive. It’s a quite different nation than it was decades ago. But we need a strategy, a sustained and bipartisan strategy to deal with China. We just had a hearing on Foreign Relations yesterday about U.S.-China relations. Senators from both sides made this point: we need stronger alliances around the world of free, open, and democratic societies to successfully respond to China's rise and expansionism, and frankly, President Trump mostly has a list of grievances, an attitude, rather than a strategy. 

Q: Senator, as you know, the President announced a few weeks ago that the United States would withdraw from the WHO in response to its handling of the coronavirus crisis, the pandemic, it being too cozy with China among many other things that won't go into effect until next year if it actually happens. You introduced legislation yesterday, though, to block President Trump and the administration from doing that. How will that work? How do you stop the President from doing it and why are you opposed to the withdrawal? 

Sen. Coons: First, the former legal adviser of the State Department Harold Koh promptly contacted me after President Trump made that announcement and said, ‘I don't believe he has the legal authority to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization unilaterally.’ I looked into it and I agree. Partly why Senator Leahy and I introduced legislation was to sharpen that point. I brought it up in a Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this week. I think it's important that we recognize that President Trump continues to do things or say he will do things that he doesn't have the legal or constitutional authority to do. So frankly, what I'm trying to do is both make the point that in the middle of a pandemic this global organization that we helped create and fund and grow needs to be a key part of how we respond globally to the pandemic. There are reasons to be critical of its early response to this pandemic, but we will be more successful reforming and reviewing the WHO's actions by remaining a part of it rather than stepping out of it. This is just part of a long pattern of Trump's actions of withdrawal from virtually anything that is part of the global network of organizations and alliances we've built over seven decades that have provided a key platform for our security and prosperity and to advance our values. 

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