As the baby formula shortage grew and got more public attention, Republicans needed a way to turn it into a partisan hit on President Joe Biden. Talking about the Abbott plant closure that is a major factor in the shortage could be awkward for Republicans since inadequate government oversight of a plant with shoddy safety and sanitary practices is exactly the kind of thing Republican policies are designed to make happen. And blaming a major corporation for the problems it caused would not be a very Republican thing to do unless Abbott happened to come out against traumatizing LGBTQ kids. The Republican answer: Make it about immigrants.
Republicans are frothing with outrage that the U.S. government is providing formula for infants detained at the border with their families. Mind you, Republicans have made detaining immigrants—and separating even young children from their parents—a cornerstone of their policy agenda. Biden has been trying to reduce immigrant detention. But if the United States government has people in custody, it has to feed them. There’s a longstanding legal settlement requiring that, among other basics of humane treatment, that even Donald Trump had to somewhat abide by.
RELATED STORY: Worsening shortage leaves parents searching for the formula they need to feed their babies
The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler notes a 2020 Department of Homeland Security Inspector General report on how the federal government was handling migrants arriving at the border in 2019 included the line, “We also observed all Border Patrol stations had food, snacks, juice, and infant formula available for children.” But 1) that was Trump and 2) formula was not at that specific moment an issue of widespread concern.
Under Biden, with shelves all but bare of formula at many stores across the U.S., Republicans are furious that the government is not starving infants in its custody.
Not that it much matters since babies in U.S. custody need to be fed, but note that only one out of the three shelves in the picture of the Biden administration supposedly hoarding formula for immigrants actually contains formula. The other two have baby food, which there’s no shortage of.
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Nonetheless, this is the hot new outrage among Republicans.
Rep. Elise Stefanik: “Joe Biden continues to put America LAST by shipping pallets of baby formula to the southern border as American families face empty shelves. This is unacceptable. American mothers and their babies shouldn’t suffer because of the #BidenBorderCrisis.”
Tucker Carlson: “Once they get here, the Biden administration will give them food supplies that you can't buy. Those would include baby formula.... How much more of this are people going to take, you wonder? It's too humiliating.”
Humiliating? Once again, Carlson is trying to create in his white viewers the sense that they are losing out, being defeated in a long-term battle for … supremacy, if you will.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the National Border Patrol Council: “While mothers and fathers stare at empty grocery store shelves in a panic, the Biden administration is happy to provide baby formula to illegal immigrants coming across our southern border. This is yet another one in a long line of reckless, out-of-touch priorities from the Biden administration when it comes to securing our border and protecting Americans.”
White supremacist ghoul Stephen Miller: “How many American Parents couldn’t feed their children, or were forced to use a formula their infants couldn’t tolerate, because Biden was diverting scarce formula to subsidize mass illegal immigration through our open border?”
The formula shortage is a serious problem for parents in the U.S., but a few pallets of formula going to actual babies who need to be fed is not the problem. The problem is that Abbott Laboratories allowed one of its major plants to put out unsafe formula—according to a whistleblower document, Abbott falsified documents, released untested formula, tried to evade scrutiny at an FDA audit, and had lax cleaning practices—with five strains of cronobacter found at the plant after babies started getting sick and two died. The closure of that plant dramatically disrupted the U.S. supply of formula, which was already strained because of pandemic supply chain issues and possibly a decline in breastfeeding.
Immigrants did not cause this, and starving their babies is not going to fix it. But talking about the need for more government regulation so that private companies manufacturing things like baby formula can’t send out unsafe product to vulnerable consumers is not how Republicans gain partisan advantage.
Another thing Republicans have chosen not to be outraged about is the fact that people on WIC, the supplemental nutrition program for new mothers and young children, are restricted to using their benefits on specific formula brands, very often Abbott ones. Relaxing those rules would allow those parents to use WIC benefits to buy generic or other brands rather than going without or looking at multiple stores if Abbott formulas aren’t available.
Thursday afternoon, the Biden administration announced it is taking action to increase formula imports. Currently, 98% of formula in the U.S. is manufactured in this country, but with other countries not having the shortages we’re seeing, it is possible for the FDA to allow the importing of more formula from countries with products that meet U.S. specifications. If the FDA moves quickly, it could change the situation before too long.
There is virtually no problem that Republicans won’t seek to weaponize by blaming immigrants. Even if, as here, what that involves is calling for the government to starve babies rather than pointing a finger at a corporation that endangered babies by putting out unsafe product.
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