Republicans seeking to regain control of Congress have already pitched a message centered on blaming Democrats for high inflation, expensive gas, immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border and violent crime in some cities.
But GOP leaders came to an issue this week that they hope could be even more potent: tying President Joe Biden to a shortage of infant formula.
Suddenly, parents are rushing to empty supermarket and drugstore shelves, in part because of ongoing supply disruptions and a recent safety recall. But in an election year that was already turning out to be difficult for Democrats, Republicans feel that shortages may be an especially tangible way to argue that Biden is incapable of quickly solving the problems facing America.
“This is not a Third World country,” said Republican Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, chairman of the House Republican conference. “This should never happen in the United States of America.”
The government has sometimes been slow to respond to sudden political threats, perhaps most notably when signs of inflation began to emerge last year. The White House appears determined not to repeat that mistake, announcing on Friday that formula maker Abbott Laboratories has committed to giving discounts through August for a food stamp-like program that helps women, babies and children called WIC.
Biden insisted that “there is nothing more urgent that we are working on” than solving the shortage.
Asked if his administration had responded as quickly as it should have, Biden said: “If we had been better mind readers, I think we could have. But we moved as fast as the problem became apparent.”
But the White House defense illustrates how the accusations against the Biden administration have already spread widely among Republicans in Washington, on television and on social media. It’s a new issue for the GOP and a way to address families at a time when Democrats believe outrage over the U.S. Supreme Court possibly ending abortion rights could galvanize women and other key voters, and frustrate or at least lessen a Republican wave in November.
The Republican press has included the link between the shortage of formulas and the growing number of immigrants arriving in the US – one of the biggest questions they have tried to place at the feet of an unpopular president. On Thursday, Representative Kat Cammack of Florida shared an image of a bookshelf at a U.S. Border Patrol facility in Texas that showed a single shelf with four boxes filled with infant formula containers and half a dozen more containers. of infant formula. on that shelf.
Cammack said Thursday that a border patrol agent sent him the image. The AP has not independently verified the authenticity of the photo or when exactly it was captured. Some conservative pundits and news outlets have since concocted even bigger stories from the photo, with some claiming it shows Biden is shipping “thousands” of pallets of infant formula to the border as US parents struggle to find formula. Texas Governor Greg Abbott called the images “shameful”.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that the Border Patrol is “following the law” that requires the government to provide adequate food, specifically formula, for children under one year who are detained at the border. .
GOP political advisers, however, call this a ready-made question that resonates with voters.
“It’s just another one of those consumer issues that come up from time to time and are very easy to understand,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican strategist. have to do it soon.”
In Washington, lawmakers are responding to the shortage by scheduling hearings and demanding information from the FDA and formula manufacturers as part of comprehensive investigations. Democratic leaders of the House Oversight and Reform Committee have written to formula makers seeking information that includes what steps they are taking to increase supply and avoid price manipulation.
“National formula shortages pose a threat to the health and economic security of babies and families in communities across the country – particularly those on the lowest incomes who have historically suffered health inequities, including food insecurity,” said a letter to Chris Calamari, the president of Abbott Nutrition.
The letter seeks all documents related to the closure of the Abbott Nutrition plant in Sturgis, Michigan. Abbott Nutrition withdrew several major brands of powdered formula and closed the plant when federal authorities began investigating four babies who suffered bacterial infections after consuming formula from the facility.
Abbott is one of the few companies that produces the vast majority of the US formula supply, so its recall wiped out a large segment of the market.
Democrats are framing scarcity as an example of how Americans are hurt when a few big companies control the market. But like inflation or high gas prices, your challenge is to explain the contributing factors to the public.
Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, one of the Democrats most vulnerable to re-election this year, said supply chain problems with formulas, microchips, gasoline and other products have complex roots, many dating back to the pandemic.
“It’s up to us in Congress to deal with that, to try to figure out where to go, how can we overcome these bottlenecks in the supply chains,” Kelly said. “But not because of an election. Because it affects people’s lives.”
Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix and Joshua Boak, Kevin Freking and Amanda Seitz in Washington contributed to this report.