Jen Psaki slams Republicans who say border crisis is to blame for baby formula shortage, saying it is 'morally right' to help babies in need - as Donald Trump says Democrats should help American parents before sending $40 billion to Ukraine

  • Jen Psaki slammed Republicans Friday who said baby formula should not be shipped to the southern border while shelves are empty around the country
  • She said it was the law to protect the welfare of immigrant children
  • 'Providing them formula is morally right,' she added
  • Donald Trump also weighed in on the formula crisis with an emailed statement
  • He asked why Democrats were sending $40 billion to Ukraine during shortage
  • House Oversight Committee is launching an investigation into formula shortage
  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney has demanded records and information from four of the largest manufacturers
  • Wants answers and a briefing from companies by May 26
  • Infant formula shortage has parents worried, costs soaring

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday blasted Republicans who have questioned why baby formula is being shipped to families at the southern border when American families are facing a shortage of powdered infant milk.

She said not only was it the law to provide for children in need but it was also the morally right thing to do.

She hit out after hardline conservative Rep. Elise Stefanik tweeted that the border crisis was to blame for empty shelves.

'It is the law, but we believe that when ... babies are crossing the border with a family member ... that providing them formula is morally right,' said Psaki. 

Soon after, former President Donald Trump weighed in with his views on the crisis. He blamed Democrats for focusing on Ukraine.

'The Democrats are sending another $40 billion to Ukraine, yet America's parents are struggling to even feed their children. 

'There is a massive formula shortage, but no one is talking about it—it is a national disgrace,' he said in an emailed statement, apparently unaware of wall-to-wall coverage this week.

'It is unthinkable that in the year 2022 American families are unable to get baby formulas for their children.'

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki slapped down Rep. Elise Stefanik's complaint that baby formula was being sent to families at the southern border, saying that it was the law to provide help to arriving children and that it was also the 'morally right' think to do

Stefanik tied baby formula shortages to the crisis at the southern border in her tweet

Noted infant formula expert Donald Trump also weighed in, questioning why the House of Representatives had voted to send another $40 billion in aid to Ukraine while American families were struggling to buy baby formula

The crisis was triggered when Abbott Laboratories recalled a range of baby formula products after complains of bacterial infections.

Supply chain problems exacerbated the impact, leaving about 40 percent of products out of stock across the country, according to Datasembly.

Critics of the Biden administration this week tried to tag the crisis to their hobby horse issue.

'Joe Biden continues to put America LAST by shipping pallets of baby formula to the southern border as American families face empty shelves,' tweeted Stefanik.

'This is unacceptable. American mothers and their babies shouldn’t suffer because of the #BidenBorderCrisis.'

Psaki was asked about the tweet during her final briefing on Friday and wasted no time in slapping it down.

'Let me just give you a little sense of the facts on this one,' said Psaki, deploying full snark mode. 

'There's something called the Flores settlement which she may or may not be aware of, that's been in place since 1997. 

'It requires adequate food and elsewhere specifies age appropriateness - hence formula for kids under the age of one. 

'[Customs and Border Protection] is following the law, that law that has been in place and been followed, by the way by every administration since 1997. So this has been a law in the United States for a quarter century.

Earlier the House Oversight Committee announced it was launching an investigation into the baby formula shortage and demanding records and information from four of the largest manufacturers.

The House Oversight Committee  - led by Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York (above) - is launching an investigation into the baby formula shortage and demanding records and information from four of the largest manufacturers

Congress is demanding records and information from four of the largest manufacturers of baby forumula amid shortage

GOP Representative Kat Cammack tweeted Thursday outrage over border centers being fully stocked with baby formula while American grocery stores are seeing massive shortages and empty shelves where formula should be

'The national formula shortage poses a threat to the health and economic security of infants and families in communities across the country - particularly those with less income who have historically experienced health inequities, including food insecurity,' Democratic Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York wrote in letters to Abbott Nutrition, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestle USA and Perrigo, first obtained by ABC News

The Oversight committee is the investigative arm of Congress and broad authority to probe a variety of issues. 

The panel is looking into the price gouging around infant formula and the steps the companies are taking to address the shortages. 

Also, Maloney specifically asked Chris Calamari, chairman of Abbott Nutrition, for information about the recall of its formula after several babies were hospitalized and two died from a rare bacterial infection in some of its product.

Maloney wants answers to her questions, along with a briefing from the companies, by May 26. 

Republicans, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm after discovering baby formula is being sent to border facilities while American mothers are facing empty shelves amid massive shortages.

And President Joe Biden's administration is struggling to respond, unable to reassure parents when there will be more formula on empty grocery store shelves and where they can turn to for help. 

GOP Representative Kat Cammack tweeted Thursday two images, one showing full shelves of baby formula and food from a processing center at the southern border and another showing empty shelves where baby formula was supposed to be at an American grocery store.

'The first photo is from this morning at the Ursula Processing Center at the U.S. border. Shelves and pallets packed with baby formula,' Cammack wrote. 'The second is from a shelf right here at home. Formula is scarce.'

'This is what America last looks like,' she added.

Meanwhile, concerned parents are begging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reopen the nation's largest baby formula plant after the nationwide shortage has left their infants hungry and ill. 

But the White House on Thursday defended the closure of the Abbott plant but officials couldn't say when it would reopen.

'The reason we're here is because the FDA took a step to ensure that babies were taking safe formula. There were babies who died from taking this formula so they were doing their jobs,' White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at her daily press briefing.

President Joe Biden got personally involved on Thursday when he met with executives from infant formula manufactures and retailers including Target, Walmart and Nestle's Gerber to discuss the issue.

Biden spoke with manufacturers Reckitt and Gerber about their efforts to increase production. 

'Both companies stated that they are operating 24/7 with Gerber, increasing the amount of their infant formula available to consumers by approximately 50% in March and April. Reckitt is supplying more than 30% more product year to date,' the White House said in a readout of the president's meeting.

And his administration announced additional steps it was taking to boost the production of baby formula.

But officials were short on specifics. They couldn't say when the Abbott plant would reopen, they couldn't say when more baby formula would be for sale and Psaki couldn't offer any options when asked who parents can call for help.

The White House defended the FDA's closure of the Abbott plant that resulted in a shortage of baby formula; 'There were babies who died from taking this formula so they were doing their jobs,' White House press secretary Jen Psaki said

Empty shelves at a Target store in san Antonio, Texas

The administration did acknowledge the frustration. 

'We absolutely recognize the frustration of parents and family,' a senior administration official said on a briefing call with reporters but added: 'I don't have a particular timeline for you' when asked when parents would see some relief. 

The officials also didn't know when Abbott Nutrition's Sturgis, Michigan, plant - one of the largest producers of formula - would be back online.

'We do not today have an estimate for accessibility will come on line. But as we just said that the administration is working around the clock to do everything we can to to bring as much production to market,' the official said.

Abbott said that pending FDA approval, 'we could restart the site within two weeks.'  

Once production began, it would take six weeks to eight weeks for the baby formula to be available on shelves. 

Among the steps the administration announced was cutting red tape when it comes to the size of the formula. 

'We recognize that this is certainly a challenge for people across the country, something the President is very focused on and we're going to do everything we can to cut red tape and and take steps to increase supply on the marketplace,' Psaki said.

Manufacturers typically make multiple sized containers of the product and government programs like WIC often limit what size can be purchased. The administration is working to change those limits to ease the burden on manufactuers and let them rush out one size.

Some manufacturers are ramping up production, Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, told CNN.

The retailers told Biden 'the most important step that we can take right now is to give retailers more flexibility on the types of formula that they can sell. And consumers more flexibility on the types that they can buy, particularly through the WIC program,' for low-income families, Deese said.

Deese would not speculate on how long the shortages might last.

'All of these steps together will make progress. It's not going to solve itself in a day or week,' he said.

Officials also said the administration would work to increase the imports of baby formula but would have more details available on that at a later date. 

And the administration is calling on state attorneys general to crack down on price gouging. Formula has been going for up to $120 a can as desperate parents try to feed their children. 

Biden sent a letter on the matter to the Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan on Thursday.

'It is unacceptable for families to lose time and spend hundreds of dollars more because of price gougers' actions,' he wrote. 

'I therefore ask that the Commission further examine whether there is price gouging in infant formula occurring, thoroughly investigate complaints brought to you through channels such as your fraud hotline, and that you bring all of the Commission's tools to bear if you uncover any wrongdoing. We know State attorneys general are also examining this issue and may be valuable partners in this effort.'

Parents in Tennessee are the hardest-hit by the baby formula shortage, new data obtained by shows

This chart shows how quickly the nationwide crisis has escalated. The scale of the crisis is revealed in the new analysis, which shows that only 43 percent of the usual national supply of baby formula is available

Republican Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida have called on the administration to use the Defense Production Act to get more formula produced.

The White House did not rule it out.

'We're gonna keep every option on the table,' the senior administration official said. 

Psaki also said it was an option.

'You have to ensure that it would actually achieve what you're trying to achieve,' she said of using the act.

The formal shortage came in part due to a voluntary recall of several lines of powdered formula from Abbott Nutrition, which is the largest formula manufacturer in the U.S.

Providing baby formula to families crossing southern border is 'morally right,' says Jen Psaki

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