Biden dismisses the idea that his administration should have acted sooner on baby formula shortage

Following remarks in the White House Rose Garden, Biden pushed back when asked if the administration should have reacted faster to shortages of baby formula nationwide, telling CNN’s Jeremy Diamond, “If we’d been better mind readers, I guess we could have.”

The President later said resolving the issue requires that the federal government “move with caution as well as speed,” adding that it was important to “make sure we are getting a first-rate product.”

Manufacturers have said they are producing at full capacity, but it’s not enough to keep up with current demand. US grocery store shelves had even less infant formula last week than they had the week before, according to a new report from Datasembly, a real-time data tracking agency that closed how much product is available.

New administration actions

The Biden administration on Friday announced several moves that are aimed at addressing the burden of the shortage.

After White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday struggled to answer what the administration’s guidance is about searching for infant formula amid national supply shortages. Individuals can visit HHS.gov/formula, which Psaki says will provide “resources and places that parents can find formula, including contacts with companies, food banks (and) health care providers.”

Psaki appeared to suggest that the website was created in recent days amid growing concerns.

“We wanted to make (information) easily available and accessible to people. But before that, we have not seen, obviously, what we have seen over the last few days,” Psaki added.

US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf also said the FDA is “working around the clock” to get more formula to shelves and will announce plans next week to streamline formula imports. The commissioner did not indicate exactly what formula stock would return to normal, he wrote that the new and ongoing steps “will help dramatically improve the supply in the US in a matter of weeks.”

Califf also said the FDA is continuing to work with existing manufacturers to increase production. FDA data, he said on Twitter, “shows that stock rates in retail stores are stabilizing but we continue to work around the clock to further increase availability.”

The White House on Thursday unveiled a series of limited steps to address the shortage, including imports of formulas from abroad, Federal Trade Commission and states attorneys general to crack down on price gouging by manufacturers.
Administration officials have noted that production has increased since the massive February.

On Friday, a White House spokesperson said Abbott committed to providing critical flexibility to states through the end of August in response to a letter sent by Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“This means that families can buy any available product in the months to come, and states and retailers can plan ahead as they work to keep their stocks shelved, and most important provide certainty for families, “the spokesperson said.

Abbott said the company is directing the supply of WIC families. It is also not available with the US Department of Agricitsir formula, Similac.

Abbott is the exclusive supplier of baby formula to about half the infants enrolled in WIC.

The rebates may not be helpful, however, in situations where products can easily be switched to another product.

Abbott said that it was working to increase the supply of supplies by stepping up production at other facilities. In addition, the company says that it is offering consumers its products at a discounted price.

Invoking the Defense Production Act under consideration

White House chief of staff Ron Klain told a member of Congress this week that the White House is “absolutely” and “strongly” considering having President Joe Biden invade the Defense Production Act to address the urgent baby formula shortage problem plaguing the country.

Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger told CNN Friday morning that she spoke with Klain twice in the last two days to discuss the shortage, saying that Klain told her White House views using the law as potentially a “really important step.” The possibility of deploying the Defense Production Act – which allows the government more control during emergencies to direct industrial production – to address the formula issue was one of the many things they discussed, Spanberger said.

“I think the White House absolutely understands the severity and urgency of the issue,” Spanberger said. “But until there’s more food on the shelves, I’m not satisfied.”

Spanberger said that she and Klain also discussed the fact that inviting the law may provide a longer term solution, but it would not be the quickest way to get a baby formula back on shelves.

“Spanberger said,” the DPA, while potentially a very important thing for them to consider, may not be fast loading here quickly. “

“I think the White House absolutely understands the severity and urgency of the issue,” Spanberger added. “But until there’s more food on the shelves, I’m not satisfied.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that using the DPA to address the domestic baby formula shortage remains “under consideration.”

“So, right now of course we’re keeping that option under consideration, but our focus is primarily on twofold: One is increasing supply, and the other is making it readily available,” Psaki told reporters in the White House press briefing.

White House refuses to call the shortage a crisis or nail down a timeline

Although they have expressed optimism about increased production levels,

On Friday, Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan that she couldn’t indicate when the shortage will end.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell your audience that I can’t give you,” she told Bolduan . “We are being candid about moving as quickly as possible. And we are relentlessly focused on this.”

Bedingfield also refused to call the shortage a crisis.

“Well, I don’t think it’s about a label. “Listen, I’m a mom. I’ve got two young kids. I’m not terribly far removed from the days of feeding my kids with formula. I know … and the President knows how stressful this is for families across the country . ”

Shortages spark congressional hearings

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday outlined the House’s plans next week to deal with the shortage.

In a letter to fellow House members, he wrote that the House “will bring an emergency supply authority to the WIC program to address supply chain disruptions and recalls.” The House Appropriations Committee, they said, will “bring to the Floor an Emergency Supplemental Appropriation to immediately address the infant formula shortage.”

At least three House committees have announced this week they are looking into the issue.

A spokesperson told CNN that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Friday morning has issued letters to four separate companies that produce a baby formula requesting information about the supply chain issues.

A House Energy and Commerce Committee spokeswoman announced a May 25 hearing and told CNN they plan to call representatives from the FDA and Abbott, a major baby formula producer, to testify.

And the appropriations committee will also hold two hearings related to the shortages, including one next week with the FDA’s 2023 budget request and oversight of infant formula.

The committee’s chairwoman, Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro, told CNN she considered the FDA “dragged their feet” in addressing problems with Abbott Nutrition but does not blame the Biden administration for the shortage.

“Abbott Nutrition has been a bad actor, produced a contaminated product,” she said. “They had a whistleblower report that went to the FDA in October.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Patty Murray, Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and 30 Senate Democrats sent a letter to the president of the Infant Nutrition Council of America “calling on infant formula manufacturers to make every effort possible to get parents and families the formula they need to feed their kids.”

This story has been updated with additional developments on Friday.

CNN’s Daniella Diaz, Sam Fossum, Jeremy Diamond, Nikki Carvajal, Ryan Nobles and Jasmine Wright contributed to this report.

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