By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Democrats accused the Trump administration of trying to “scapegoat” the World Health Organization to distract from its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, and urged an immediate restoration of funding to the U.N. health body, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The letter to Republican President Donald Trump was dated Wednesday, the same day Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News the United States might never restore funding to the WHO.

Trump suspended U.S. contributions to the WHO on April 14, accusing it of being “China-centric and promoting China’s “disinformation” about the outbreak. WHO officials have denied this and China insists it has been transparent and open. The United States is the WHO’s biggest donor.

“This policy is profoundly misguided and appears to be an effort to scapegoat the WHO in order to deflect attention from your administration’s mismanaged and politicized response to the pandemic,” said the letter, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Eliot Engel, and signed by all 26 of the panel’s Democratic members.

Trump’s handling of the outbreak has been criticized by Democrats as well as some of his fellow Republicans. State governors from both parties have asked for more help to shore up their budgets and provide equipment to overwhelmed hospitals.

The outbreak of the new coronavirus began late last year in China. According to a Reuters tally, the disease has killed more than 180,000 people globally. With nearly 48,000 dead, the United States is the worst-hit country by official statistics.

The United States has been the biggest overall donor to the WHO, contributing over $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget.

The U.S. Congress controls federal spending, and could pass legislation to guarantee funding for the WHO. However, to become law it would need to garner enough support, including from Trump’s Republicans, not just to pass but to override a likely veto.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bernadette Baum)