By PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Republicans seeking to regain control of Congress have sharpened a message centered on blaming Democrats for high inflation, expensive gas, migrants crossing the U.S. -Mexico border and violent crime in some towns.
But GOP leaders landed on an issue this week that is expected to prove even more powerful: tying President Joe Biden to a lack of infant formula.
Parents are suddenly running out of supermarket and pharmacy shelves in part due to the ongoing breakdown of supply and a new safety reminder. But in an election year that is already shaping up to be rocky for Democrats, Republicans have noticed that the shortfall could prove to be a more tangible way to argue that Biden can’t make a quick fix. of the problems facing the US.
“This is not a Third World country,” said GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the chairman of the House Republican conference. “It’s never going to happen in the United States of America.”
The administration is sometimes slow to respond to sudden political threats, perhaps especially when signs of inflation began last year. The White House appears determined not to repeat that mistake, announcing Friday that formula maker Abbott Laboratories has promised to provide rebates until August for a program like the food stamp that helps women, infants and children called WIC.
Biden insinuated that “there is nothing more urgent that we work on” than addressing the shortage.
Asked if his administration was quick to respond to the need, Biden said, “If we’d better read the mind, I think we could. But we acted immediately when the problem became apparent.”
But the White House defense describes how the Biden administration’s finger pointing has spread far and wide among Republicans in Washington, on television and on social media. This is a new issue for the GOP to hammer and a way to address families at a time when Democrats believe the U.S. Supreme Court’s anger at the possibility of ending the right to an abortion could be encouraging. of women and other key voters, and could prevent or at least reduce a Republican wave in November.
The Republicans ’full-court press includes linking the lack of formula to the rising number of migrants going to the U.S.-one of the biggest issues they seek 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 showing a shelf with four boxes full of baby formula containers, and half in a dozen more containers of infant formula. on that shelf.
Cammack said Thursday that a border patrol agent sent him the image. The AP does not independently verify the authenticity of the photograph or when it was exactly taken. Some conservative experts and news outlets have since started making more long stories out of the photo, with some claiming they have shown that Biden sent “thousands” of pallets to formula to the border child as U.S. parents struggle to find the formula. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott described the images as “embarrassing.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the Border Patrol is “following the law” requiring the government to provide adequate food, specifically formula for children under one year, detained at the border.
GOP political consultants however call it a ready -made issue that resonates with voters.
“It’s just one of those consumer issues that comes up every now and then that people can easily understand,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas -based Republican strategist. it must be done soon. “
In Washington, lawmakers responded to the shortage by scheduling hearings and soliciting information from the FDA and formula makers as part of sweeping investigations. Democratic leaders on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform wrote to the makers of the formula seeking information that included what steps they were taking to increase supplies and curb price increases.
“The lack of a national formula poses a threat to the health and economic security of infants and families in communities across the country — especially those on low incomes who have experienced historically inequitable health, including insecurity. of food, ”as in a letter to Chris Calamari, the president. at Abbott Nutrition.
The letter sought 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 factory when federal officials began investigating four children who suffered bacterial infections after drinking the formula from facility.
Abbott is one of the few companies that manufactures the majority of formula supply in the U.S., so their memory is eliminating much of the market share.
Democrats frame the shortage as an example of how Americans are damaged when a few large companies control the market. But like inflation or high gas prices, their challenge is to explain the factors that contribute to the public.
Si Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, one of the weakest Democrats to be re-elected this year, said supply chain problems with formula, microchips, gasoline and other products have complicated roots, many back in the pandemic. .
“It’s up to us in Congress to address this, to try to figure out where to go, how we can overcome these bottlenecks in the supply chains,” Kelly said. “But not because of the election. Because it affects people’s lives. ”
Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper of Phoenix and Joshua Boak, Kevin Freking and Amanda Seitz of Washington contributed to this report.
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