President Biden insisted Friday that only “better mind-readers” could have effectively dealt with a nationwide shortage of baby formula, despite his administration knowing about the crisis for months.
“Republicans have said that your administration should have anticipated this baby formula shortage,” CNN reporter Jeremy Diamond said at a Rose Garden event where Biden urged cities to spend COVID-19 stimulus funds on cops.
“Are you satisfied with your administration’s response so far?” Diamond asked. “And some of the steps that you and your administration are taking now, including loosening these import requirements next week — could you have taken those steps sooner, before parents got to these shelves and couldn’t find formula?”
“If we’d been better mind-readers I guess we could have,” Biden replied.
“But we moved as quickly as the problem became apparent to us,” he added. “And we have to move with caution as well as speed because we got to make sure what we’re getting is, in fact, first-rate product. That’s why the FDA has to go through the process.”
Biden also said looming Food and Drug Administration moves to relax imports of formula could quickly ease the crisis.
“I think we’re going to be in a matter of weeks or less getting significantly more formula on shelves,” Biden said. “And the FDA has also made sure we can import and still maintain the high safety standards.”
Critics have hammered Biden’s response to acute shortages that mushroomed since a February recall and shutdown at an Abbott Nutrition factory in Michigan after two infant deaths were tentatively linked by the FDA to bacterial contamination of formula.
The outcry prompted the White House to add calls with formula manufacturers and distributors to the president’s Thursday schedule.
For weeks, parents complained on social media about difficulty finding formula, but the crisis gained national coverage this week as congressional Republicans blasted Biden.
Shortly after a House GOP press conference on Thursday, the White House said the FDA would work to relax imports of formula, which could alleviate the crunch because 98% of US-consumed formula is domestically produced.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the No. 3 House Republican and mother of a baby boy, led fellow GOPers in bashing Biden Thursday.
“I cannot think of a more harrowing, panicked crisis for parents to face than desperately trying to find food for their newborn babies,” she said.
Stefanik said her office first contacted the FDA about the issue in February and claimed that “we received no substantive response — Joe Biden simply has no plan.”
“My son Sam is nine months old. He is formula-fed and even in my trips to the grocery store in upstate New York, the shelves have been fairly empty,” she said. “There was an article just today about families having to drive hours.”
Stefanik added that “babies have been put to bed hungry” and argued that the White House “should have had a plan for the shortage months ago. Instead, bare-shelves Biden has continued to pass the buck.”
In addition to easing imports, the White House said Thursday it was easing rules to allow low-income mothers to purchase a greater variety of formula with grant money provided by states, as well as urging state officials and the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on price gouging.