Republicans aiming to regain control of Congress have already sharpened a message centered on blaming Democrats for high inflation, expensive gas, migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and violent crime in some cities.
But GOP leaders this week addressed an issue they hope will prove even more powerful: tying President Joe Biden to a shortage of infant formula.
Parents suddenly stumble upon bare supermarket and pharmacy shelves, in part due to ongoing supply disruptions and a recent safety recall. But in an election year that was already shaping up to be tough for Democrats, Republicans warn that the shortage could prove to be a particularly tangible way to argue that Biden is incapable of quickly solving the problems facing the United States.
“This is not a Third World country,” said GOP representative Elise Stefanik of New York, chairman of the House Republican Conference. “This should never happen in the United States of America”.
The administration has at times been slow to respond to sudden political threats, perhaps particularly as 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 pledged to give discounts until August for a food stamp-like program that helps women, babies and children called WIC.
Biden insisted that “there is nothing more urgent we are working on” than addressing the shortage.
Asked if his administration had responded as quickly as possible, Biden said, “If we had been better mind readers, I guess we could have. But we moved on as soon as the problem became apparent.”
But the White House defense illustrates how pointing the finger at the Biden administration has already spread far and wide among Republicans in Washington, on television and on social media. It’s a new issue for the GOP to hammer on and a way to address families at a time when Democrats believe outrage over the US Supreme Court that it could end abortion rights could galvanize women and other key voters and counter or at least reduce a Republican surge in November.
Republicans’ all-out press included linking the shortage formula with the growing number of migrants entering the United States, one of the biggest issues they have tried to put at the feet of an unpopular president. On Thursday, Rep Kat Cammack, R-Florida, shared an image of a shelving unit at a U.S. Border Patrol facility in Texas that showed a single shelf with four boxes full of baby food containers and half a dozen. of extra baby food containers on that shelf.
Cammack said Thursday that a border patrol officer sent her the picture. The AP did not independently verify the authenticity of the photo or when exactly it was taken. Some conservative pundits and news outlets have since drawn even bigger stories from the photo, with some claiming that they show Biden sending “thousands” of pallets of formula milk to the border as her parents in the United States struggle to find milk. artificial. Texas Governor Greg Abbott called the images “shameful”.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that the border patrol was “following the law” requiring the government to provide adequate food, especially formula for children under the age of one, who are detained at the border.
The GOP’s political advisers, however, call it a ready-made problem that resonates with voters.
“It’s just another of those consumer problems that come up from time to time that are very easy for people to understand,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist based in Texas. “They have to find a solution and they have to do it soon.”
In Washington, lawmakers are responding to the shortage by scheduling hearings and requesting information from the FDA and formula makers as part of extensive investigations. Democratic leaders of the House Commission for Oversight and Reform have written formula makers looking for information that includes the measures they are taking to increase supplies and prevent price counterfeiting.
“The shortage of national formulas poses a threat to the health and economic security of infants and families in communities across the country, particularly those with lower incomes who have historically experienced health inequalities, including food insecurity,” he said. stated a letter to Chris Calamari, the president of Abbot Nutrition.
The letter searches for all documents relating to the closure of the Abbott Nutrition facility in Sturgis, Michigan. Abbott Nutrition recalled several major brands of formula formula and closed the factory when federal officials began investigating four babies who suffered from bacterial infections after consuming formula from the facility.
Abbott is one of the few companies that manufacture the vast majority of U.S. formula supply, so their retirement wiped out a large segment of the market.
Democrats are framing the shortage as an example of how Americans are hurt when some large corporations control the market. But like inflation or high gas prices, their challenge is to explain the contributing factors to the public.
Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, one of the most vulnerable Democrats running for re-election this year, said supply chain problems with formula, microchips, gasoline and other products have complex roots, many of which go back to the pandemic. .
“It is up to us in Congress to address these issues, to figure out where to go, how to overcome these bottlenecks in supply chains,” said Kelly. “But not because of an election. Because this 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.