AUSTIN, Texas — Republicans aiming to regain control of Congress have already refined a message centered on blaming Democrats for high inflation, expensive gasoline, migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and violent crime in some cities.
But GOP leaders landed this week on an issue they hope could prove even more potent: tying President Joe Biden to a formula shortage.
Parents suddenly find themselves on empty shelves in supermarkets and pharmacies, in part due to ongoing supply disruptions and a recent safety recall. But in an election year that was already shaping up to be a difficult one for Democrats, Republicans feel the shortage could prove to be a particularly tangible way to make the case that Biden is incapable of quickly solving the problems facing the United States. United.
“It’s not a Third World country,” said GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, House Republican conference chairwoman. “This should never happen in the United States of America.”
The administration has at times been slow to respond to sudden political threats, perhaps most notably when signs of inflation began to surface last year. The White House appears determined not to repeat that mistake, announcing Friday that formula maker Abbott Laboratories has pledged to provide discounts through August for a food stamp-like program that helps women, infants and children. called WIC.
Biden insisted there was “nothing more urgent that we are working on” than addressing the shortage.
Asked if his administration responded as quickly as it should have, Biden said, “If we had been better mind readers, I guess we could have been. But we acted as quickly as the problem appeared.
But the White House defense illustrates how widespread finger-pointing the Biden administration has already become 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 reach out to families at a time when Democrats think outrage at the U.S. Supreme Court could end abortion rights could galvanize women and other key voters, and thwart or at least diminish a Republican Wave in November.
The Republicans’ in-court press notably linked the shortage of formula to the growing number of migrants entering the United States – one of the biggest problems they have sought to put at the feet of an unpopular president. . On Thursday, Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Florida, shared an image of a shelf at a U.S. Border Patrol facility in Texas that showed a single shelf with four boxes full of formula containers and half a dozen containers. extra formula milk. on this 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 the exact time it was taken. Some conservative pundits and news outlets have since told even bigger stories from the photo, with some saying they show Biden shipping ‘thousands’ of pallets of formula across the border while parents in the US struggle to find formula. Texas Governor Greg Abbott called the footage “shameful”.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the Border Patrol is “abiding by the law” that requires the government to provide adequate food, especially formula for children under the age of one, who are detained at the border.
GOP political consultants nonetheless call it a ready-made question that resonates with voters.
“It’s just another one of those consumer issues that pops up every once in a while that’s very easy for people to understand,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican strategist. “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 in full investigations. Democratic leaders of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform have written to formula makers seeking information on steps they are taking to increase supplies and prevent price gouging.
“The nationwide shortage of infant formula poses a threat to the health and economic security of infants and families in communities across the country, especially those with lower incomes and who have historically experienced health inequities. , including food insecurity,” said a letter to Chris Calamari, the president. from Abbott Nutrition.
The letter requests all documents related to the closure of the Abbott Nutrition plant in Sturgis, Michigan. Abbott Nutrition recalled several major brands of powdered formula and closed the plant after federal officials began investigating four babies who suffered bacterial infections after consuming formula from the facility.
Abbott is one of the few companies to produce the vast majority of the formula supply in the United States, so their recall wiped out much of the market.
Democrats point to the shortage 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.
Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this year, said supply chain issues with formulas, microchips, gasoline and other products have complex roots, many of which date back to the pandemic.
“It’s up to us in Congress to figure out these issues, to try to figure out where to go, how to overcome these bottlenecks in the supply chains,” Kelly said. “But not because of an election. Because it affects people’s lives.