Republicans seeking to regain control of Congress have already sharpened their message, blaming Democrats for high inflation, expensive gas, migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, and violent crime in some cities.
But GOP leaders this week ran into an issue they hoped could prove even more powerful: linking President Joe Biden to a baby food shortage.
Parents are suddenly encountering empty supermarket and pharmacy shelves, in part because of continued supply disruptions and a recent safety recall. But in an election year that was already getting rocky for Democrats, Republicans feel the deficit could prove a particularly tangible way to argue that Biden is incapable of quickly solving problems facing the U.S. are confronted
“This is not a third world country,” said New York GOP representative Elise Stefanik, the chairman of the House Republican conference. “This should never happen in the United States of America.”
The government has been slow to respond to sudden political threats at times, perhaps most notably when signs of inflation surfaced last year. The White House seems determined not to repeat that mistake, announcing Friday that formula maker Abbott Laboratories has committed to offering discounts until August for a food stamp-like program that helps women, infants and children called WIC.
Biden insisted there is “nothing more urgent that we are working on” than tackling 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 done that too. But we went as fast as the problem arose.”
But the White House defense illustrates how finger-pointing 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 push and a way to appeal to families at a time when Democrats believe outrage over the U.S. Supreme Court potentially ending the right to abortion could spur women and other key voters. , and could hinder or at least reduce Republican wave in November.
The Republicans’ full press has included linking the formula shortage to the rising number of migrants entering the US — one of the biggest issues they’ve tried to put at the feet of an unpopular president. On Thursday, Representative Kat Cammack, R-Florida, shared an image of a shelf in a US Border Patrol facility in Texas that showed a single shelf with four boxes full of baby food containers and half a dozen more baby food containers on that shelf.
Cammack said Thursday that a Border Patrol officer sent her the image. The AP has not independently verified the authenticity of the photo or when exactly it was taken. Some conservative pundits and news outlets have since spun even bigger stories from the picture, with some claiming to show Biden shipping “thousands” of baby food pallets across the border as parents in the US struggle to find formula. Texas Governor Greg Abbott called the images “shameful.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the Border Patrol is “following the law” that requires the government to provide adequate food, especially formulas for children under the age of one, who are being held at the border.
GOP political advisers nevertheless call it a ready-made problem that resonates with voters.
“It’s just another one of those consumer issues that pops up from time to time and is really easy for people to understand,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist in Texas. “They have to come up with a solution and they have to do it quickly.”
In Washington, lawmakers are responding to the shortfall by scheduling hearings and demanding information from the FDA and formulators as part of sweeping investigations. Democratic leaders of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform wrote formmakers seeking information about steps they are taking to increase supply and avoid price inflation.
“The national bottle-feeding shortage threatens the health and economic safety of infants and families in communities across the country – especially those with lower incomes who have historically faced health inequalities, including food insecurity. said a letter to Chris Calamari, the president. from Abbott Nutrition.
The letter seeks all documents related to the closure of Abbott Nutrition’s plant in Sturgis, Michigan. Abbott Nutrition recalled several major brands of powdered formula and closed the facility when federal officials began investigating four infants who had contracted bacterial infections after consuming formula from the facility.
Abbott is one of the few companies that manufacture the vast majority of US formula offerings, so their recall has wiped out much of the market.
Democrats paint the deficit as an example of how Americans are harmed when a few big companies control the market. But like inflation or high gas prices, their challenge is to explain the contributing factors to the public.
sen. Arizona’s Mark Kelly, one of the most vulnerable Democrats to be re-elected this year, said the supply chain problems with formula, microchips, gasoline and other products have complex roots, many dating back to the pandemic.
“It’s up to us in Congress to address these, to try to figure out where to go, how to overcome these supply chain bottlenecks,” Kelly said. “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.