A national shortage of baby formula is the latest challenge facing President Biden.
The White House is already managing the highest inflation rate in decades, a war in Ukraine triggered by Russia’s invasion, a lingering pandemic and sky-high gas prices. There’s also the likelihood that the Supreme Court this summer will strike down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Now it can deal with panic over the baby formula shortage, which is causing consternation from coast to coast. The Food and Drug Administration is working to fix it.
“Like we didn’t have enough problems,” one Biden ally quipped in an interview on Tuesday. “Sure, throw in baby formula.”
Biden has had his hands full with short-term, medium-term and long-term problems, many of them related.
The baby formula shortage is being exacerbated by supply chain problems that also have caused inflation to rise. Biden in a White House speech on Tuesday identified inflation, which is making the midterm landscape for Democrats bleaker by the day, as his top issue.
Gas prices hit another peak on Tuesday, and they are being affected by the Ukraine war. Coronavirus cases are also ticking up again, a reminder that the pandemic hasn’t gone away. In China, lockdowns caused by the pandemic are contributing to economic malaise in the United States.
The baby formula shortage has led retailers including Amazon and Target to limit the amount of formula people can purchase online and in stores.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said the availability of the product is “a priority for the FDA and they’re working around the clock to address any possible shortage.”
But Psaki stopped shy of saying the White House could take any additional steps.
“I don’t believe there’s a national stockpile of baby formula,” she said.
By Tuesday, the FDA had issued a lengthy outline of the steps it is taking to address the shortage, which include meeting with infant formula manufacturers, monitoring supply and taking steps to expedite production.
“We are doing everything in our power to ensure there is adequate product available where and when they need it,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a statement.
Republicans, salivating over a political atmosphere that seems like it could deliver the party House and Senate majorities in the fall, have ripped the administration over high gas prices and inflation.
The GOP also has pounced on the baby formula issue, with the Republican National Committee highlighting accounts of mothers across the country who are worried about feeding their babies.
“Everything is more expensive in Biden’s America and now families are being devastated by a massive baby formula shortage,” said Emma Vaughn, a spokeswoman at the Republican National Committee.
On Tuesday, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) sent letters to the Biden administration to voice concern about the shortage.
“I am deeply concerned about the apparent lack of an effective mitigation strategy and urge both agencies to move as fast as possible to safely resolve this situation,” Romney wrote, referring to the FDA and the Department of Agriculture.
A day earlier, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a new mother and member of the House GOP leadership, also took to Twitter to voice her disapproval.
“This is absolutely UNACCEPTABLE in America,” Stefanik wrote on Twitter. “Sadly, this has become the norm because of Joe Biden’s radical agenda.”
Democrats say Biden has become an easy target for all the problems — both large and small — that the nation has been facing.
“The easiest person to blame is the most visible public figure in America,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “It doesn’t matter if it’s fair or logical. They might be doing everything you might imagine to address it but if it’s not being solved it’s at your feet.”
And the worst could still be yet to come, political observers caution.
“Don’t forget what is looking like a bear stock market and possible recession,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “It’s not good for the administration however you paint it and whatever he says.”
“People will feel economic pain and fear directly so it’s hard to explain away,” he said.
The White House and Biden himself are starting to push back more aggressively against Republicans who have tried to use issues like inflation to attack the president and his policies.
“Republicans love to use inflation as a political talking point, but does anyone have a clue what their plan is to bring down prices?” a White House official asked on Monday ahead of Biden’s speech about his efforts to reduce prices.
On Tuesday, Biden assailed Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) for a proposal he put forth that would raise income taxes on Americans who pay no taxes. The Scott plan also would sunset all legislation.
Republicans have sought to distance themselves from the Scott proposal, but the White House has cast it as representative of the entire GOP. Scott is the head of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm.
In an exchange with reporters following the speech, Biden acknowledged that voters fault him for inflation because Democrats are in power, but he noted the difficulty of getting his legislative agenda passed due to the narrow Senate majority.
“We’re in power,” Biden said. “You’re justifiably right that we control all three branches of government. Well, we don’t really. We have 50-50 in the Senate. You need 60 votes to get major things done. I’ve been pushing the things I’ve been proposing here and you’ve heard me speak to today since I got into office. And I need 60 votes to be able to even pass them.”
“All they’re focused on, understandably, is the problem they are facing,” Biden said of voters, adding that he needs to explain in “simple, straightforward language what is going on.”
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