The shortage is the latest pressure point for Biden with parents after persistent tensions over how schools have managed the pandemic, the adoption of “woke” curricula, and the Food and Drug Administration’s delay in authorizing a COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than 5 years of age.
There will be political repercussions for Biden and Democrats unless the White House can address the baby formula shortage, according to former Republican strategist and current Claremont McKenna College politics professor John Pitney.
“This issue does not reach as many people as gasoline prices, but it cuts deeper,” Pitney told the Washington Examiner. “Nothing matters more to parents than the well-being of infants. Team Biden could argue that administrative problems at FDA predate his administration, but very few parents care about a history lesson.”
The baby formula shortage risks undoing progress Biden has notched regarding his job approval. His average approval hovers around a net-negative 12 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics. But an ABC-Washington Post poll published this month found that Democrats had bolstered their standing related to education, with an 8-point advantage over Republicans, a 5-point increase since February and November.
The White House announced Thursday that Biden was calling on the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to crack down on price gouging and unfair market practices after being briefed by baby formula manufacturers and retailers Gerber, Reckitt, Target, and Wal-Mart. His Department of Agriculture is also relaxing its Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children rules, with roughly half of the country’s formula bought through WIC benefits.
The administration had previewed the announcement that morning after two days of reporter questions and a Datasembly analysis indicating 40% of major baby formula brands were sold out across the country at the end of last month.
Press secretary Jen Psaki defended Biden’s reaction, despite Abbott Nutrition voluntarily recalling several of its Sturgis, Michigan-produced, powdered baby formulas in February because of contamination concerns after four infants became sick with cronobacter sakazakii, with at least one dying from the bacterium. The Sturgis facility makes 20 specialty formulas for about 5,000 infants and some older children and adults with rare metabolic diseases.
“I’m sure there will be plenty of time to take a look at if there are any issues that could have been improved here,” she said. “I don’t have any specific analysis of that at this moment in time. What I will note is that there has been work ongoing on this for months.”
A day earlier, Republicans criticized Psaki’s replacement, Karine Jean-Pierre, for not being able to name a person tapped to spearhead the issue.
“I mean, I — at the White House, I don’t — I don’t know,” she said. “I can find out for you and get you a person who’s running point.”
Jean-Pierre did detail what the White House is doing with respect to baby formula, adamant that the availability of safe products is of the utmost importance. She said the FDA is collaborating with industry partners to boost production and discourage hoarding, as well as expediting relevant FDA review processes and importation opportunities from countries such as Chile, Ireland, Mexico, and the Netherlands.
Republicans have amplified the baby formula shortage after mixed inflation data was released this week, including April’s consumer price index rising by 8.3% compared to last year and last month’s producer price index by 11% since 2021.
“When it rains it pours,” Republican strategist John Feehery said. “Voters think Biden is incompetent, so they will naturally blame him for the latest disaster that has happened under his watch.”
“Industry watchdogs and companies have been warning of massive shortages for months, and Biden has done nothing,” the Republican National Committee’s Tommy Pigott told reporters in an email.
“Before Joe Biden and Democrats took control of our government, it would have been unthinkable that parents would not be able to find baby formula to feed their children,” House Republican campaign spokesman Mike Berg added. “Democrats’ stunning incompetence and mismanagement of the economy knows no bounds.”