Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates says he’s counting on Donald Trump’s pragmatism when it comes to the president’s policies on health spending and foreign aid.
“I’ve talked to him about HIV and how the U.S. should be proud of our work there,” Gates said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Manus Cranny in Geneva, less than a month after meeting with Trump at the White House. “This dialog is important: you’ve seen his pragmatism on a number of things, and I’m certainly hoping that these health-related budgets receive some of that attention.”
Gates, who wrote an article last month saying the president’s cuts to foreign aid would make America less safe, signaled his confidence that Trump’s proposed reductions to health spending also won’t go unscathed through Congress, which ultimately approves the budget. Some lawmakers and leaders within the current administration see the need for a “balance of soft power and hard power” and support aid for the poorest countries so that military intervention doesn’t become necessary, he said.
Trump “wants to be a leader, he wants to have things that he’s actually accomplished,” Gates said. “It means talking to him and giving him some background that he might not have had through his past work.”
The comments from Gates come less than a week after the president reversed course on a number of pledges, most notably declaring that he won’t label China a currency manipulator. Within the space of a few hours last Wednesday, Trump changed previously critical stances on the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the value of NATO, interest rates, and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. His promises to renegotiate NAFTA, slap tariffs on Chinese goods, and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in his first days have also been stymied, delayed or abandoned.
Trump’s budget proposal last month called for cutting the National Institutes of Health’s budget by $5.8 billion in fiscal 2018. Another, which cuts funding for international programs by 28.5 percent, prompted a rare public rebuke last month from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. CEO Sue Desmond-Hellman said in a statement the foundation was “deeply troubled” that the proposal “disproportionately affects the poorest people abroad and at home.”
Gates didn’t endorse a candidate in the 2016 presidential election, though his foundation was one of the largest donors to the Clinton Foundation.
The Microsoft Corp. co-founder, who was in Geneva this week to provide an update on efforts to thwart neglected tropical diseases such as leprosy, river blindness, sleeping sickness and guinea worm, also called on the U.K. to maintain its scientific leadership after the Brexit vote.
Weak spending on health and foreign aid in the U.S. can carry severe economic repercussions and require more costly intervention at a later date to contain the pandemics, the world’s richest man warned.
“If there is anything that could horrifically go and kill millions of extra people, it would be an epidemic,” Gates said in the interview. Leaders such as U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis have recognized that “if you don’t have that aid budget, then it forces the military to have to buy more weapons.”
Gates said he’s expecting several more countries to join the fight against ailments that disable, disfigure and kill patients in the world’s poorest communities as his foundation commits an additional $335 million to the effort.
“We have a lot of allies in this war,” Gates said. “The traditional leaders on this have been the U.S. and the U.K. We’ll get four or five others to step up.”