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A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention logo at the agency's federal headquarters in Atlanta on Nov. 19, 2013. (AP/file) A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention logo at the agency's federal headquarters in Atlanta on Nov. 19, 2013. (AP/file)

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention logo at the agency's federal headquarters in Atlanta on Nov. 19, 2013. (AP/file)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy March 12, 2020

‘The View’ co-host Joy Behar wrongly says Trump shut down 37 global anti-pandemic programs

If Your Time is short

  • News reports in early 2018 said the CDC was preparing to scale back its anti-pandemic programs in some countries because an early source of funding was running out and the agency didn’t expect to receive new money from the Trump administration.

  • The spending bills that lawmakers ultimately passed provided more money for those CDC programs than Trump’s budget requests asked for.

  • The programs are part of the Global Health Security Agenda, an initiative to help countries reduce their vulnerability to infectious diseases.

Joy Behar, a co-host of ABC’s "The View," accused President Donald Trump of dismantling anti-pandemic programs the Obama administration set up across the globe.

Barack Obama "set up anti-pandemic programs in 47 vulnerable countries as a way to protect against something like the coronavirus, exactly," Behar said during the March 9 episode of the show. "Do you know that Trump closed 37 of them?"

The TV host’s claim is wrong, and it’s not entirely clear how she got her numbers, either.

Trump did fail to replace top national-security officials in charge of coordinating the U.S. response to pandemics, and he unsuccessfully sought to cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But he never slashed the programs Behar was referring to, however.

As the Washington Post noted, there were concerns among global-health leaders that U.S. funding for an initiative known as the Global Health Security Agenda was running out, and that some U.S.-run pandemic-prevention programs would have to be downsized as a result. 

But the Trump administration never pulled the plug on those programs, although it did propose smaller budgets. Congress has injected more money into them in recent budget requests.

One day after we reached out to ABC for comment, Behar made a tongue-in-cheek correction on air.

"The other day, I mistakenly said that Trump shut down anti-pandemic programs that Obama had set up in nearly 40 countries," Behar said. "I’m happy to say, he only attempted to cut funding for them, but that did not ultimately go into effect. Isn’t that good?"

Why the CDC thought its programs had to shrink

The CDC has been operating public-health programs in a number of foreign countries as part the Global Health Security Agenda, which the United States helped launch in 2014.

The initiative — which now includes 67 countries — is a global effort to help countries reduce the risk of infectious diseases. 

The bulk of its early funding came from a one-time, five-year emergency spending bill that Congress approved in late 2014 to respond to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The package appropriated almost $600 million for the CDC "to support national public health institutes and global health security."

The CDC had hoped those funds would be replenished once the five-year supplement expired in October 2019, according to reports. But as the expiration date approached, it looked like the agency could be left with just the core annual budget to pull from.

National news outlets reported in the spring of 2018 that the CDC was bracing for a possible funding drop-off. The CDC planned to scale back operations in 39 of 49 countries and focus on 10 "priority countries," according to emails reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

In the end, however, Congress provided enough funding to sustain the programs, experts told us. (The White House and CDC did not respond to our requests for comment. The CDC told Factcheck.org it "did not have to cut back its work" to 10 countries.)

"The president's budget proposed slashing funding for CDC's (global health security) initiatives," added Claire Standley, an assistant research professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security. "In the end, that didn't happen." 

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The worry in early 2018 was that the budget for the CDC’s global disease-prevention programs would be just over $50 million, as it had been in past years, when the supplement from 2014 was still the primary funding source. Trump’s 2018 budget proposal put it in that ballpark.

But the budget Congress ultimately passed bumped the appropriations for "global disease detection and other programs" up to $108.2 million. The same amount was provided in 2019.

In November 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services pledged an additional $150 million "to support capacity strengthening in high-risk countries around the world" at a meeting in which the U.S. affirmed its commitment to the next phase of the Global Health Security Agenda.

The Trump administration’s 2021 budget request appropriated $225 million for the same global-health programs, up from $183.2 million in 2020.

As we’ve reported, Trump has consistently proposed cuts to certain CDC budgets, but the bills Congress ultimately passed — with Trump’s signature — have steadily increased funding for the CDC’s infectious-disease activities.

Experts said the administration’s wavering support has likely made it difficult for the CDC to plan out its activities.

"I don't think the 37 out of 47 statement is accurate," Standley said. "But I do think that the Trump administration, in failing to provide consistent funding and clear indication of the priority placed on global health security capacity building, has made it difficult for the CDC to sustain the programs and successful efforts put into place since 2014."

"Programs weren’t shut down in the end, but you can also say that the administration didn’t prioritize them in the proposed budget," added Jennifer Nuzzi, an associate professor of public health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

A problem with the numbers

It’s not clear why Behar referred to a shutdown of 37 of 47 programs when the 2018 news reports said the CDC was considering scaling back 39 of 49 operations. 

It’s possible she pulled from a tweet by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., whose claim that Trump "shut down 37 of 47 global anti-pandemic programs" was debunked by other fact-checkers. But however you crunch the numbers, it’s hard to get to 47 countries — or 49, for that matter.

A 2019 annual report on the Global Health Security Agenda says the CDC provides financial support and technical assistance to 17 priority countries, plus technical assistance for 14 countries and CARICOM, a group of 15 Caribbean countries and dependencies.

One CARICOM country is Haiti, which is already listed among the countries receiving technical assistance from the CDC. Another is Montserrat, a British territory. 

That adds up to 44 total countries, or 50 if you include six other countries that Standley said received some early support specifically related to the Ebola outbreak. 

Our ruling

Behar said Obama "set up anti-pandemic programs in 47 vulnerable countries as a way to protect against something like the coronavirus" and "Trump closed 37 of them."

News reports in 2018 said the CDC was planning to shrink its operations to help foreign countries prevent infectious diseases because it didn’t expect to receive new funding once the supplement it received in 2014 ran out. But the programs didn’t shut down in the end.

The spending bill that lawmakers ultimately passed that year provided more money for those CDC programs than Trump’s budget request originally asked for.

Behar corrected her statement. We rate it False.

Our Sources

The View on YouTube, "Trump’s Managing of Coronavirus Outbreak | The View," March 9, 2020

Factcheck.org, "False Claim About CDC’s Global Anti-Pandemic Work," March 12, 2020

The Washington Post, "No, Trump didn’t shut down 37 of 47 global anti-pandemic programs," March 4, 2020

Global Health Security Agenda, "Advancing the Global Health Security Agenda: CDC Achievements & Early Impact," August 2019

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Justification of Estimates for Appropriation Committees," accessed March 11, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "FY 2021 President's Budget," Feb. 10, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "FY 2020 President's Budget," March 15, 2019

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Overview of the CDC FY 2018 Budget Request," May 21, 2017

Center for Strategic and International Studies, "Ending the Cycle of Crisis and Complacency in U.S. Global Health Security," November 2019

Letter from global health coalitions to Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, 2018

Government Publishing Office, "Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015," Dec. 16, 2014

The Department of Health and Human Services, "HHS Officials Deliver Remarks at the Fifth Annual Global Health Security Agenda Ministerial Meeting," November 7, 2018

The New York Times, "White House Hails Success of Disease-Fighting Program, and Plans Deep Cuts," March 13, 2018

The Wall Street Journal, "CDC to Scale Back Work in Dozens of Foreign Countries Amid Funding Worries," Jan. 19, 2018

The Washington Post, "CDC to cut by 80 percent efforts to prevent global disease outbreak," Feb. 1, 2018

The White House of President Barack Obama, "FACT SHEET: Global Health Security Agenda: Getting Ahead of the Curve on Epidemic Threats," Sept. 26, 2014

PolitiFact, "Did Donald Trump fire pandemic officials, defund CDC?" Feb. 28, 2020

Email interview with Jennifer Nuzzi, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an associate professor of public health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, March 11, 2020

Email interview with Claire Standley, assistant research professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security, March 11, 2020

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‘The View’ co-host Joy Behar wrongly says Trump shut down 37 global anti-pandemic programs

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