Reporters Press Jean-Pierre On Delayed Response To Baby Formula Shortage

Peter Doocy and Karine Jean-Pierre [Screenshot/YouTube/White House]

Nicole Silverio Media Reporter
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White House reporters pressed White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at Wednesday’s briefing about the administration’s delayed response to the baby formula shortage.

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he was not aware of the severity of the baby formula shortage until April–two months after Abbott Nutrition, the country’s largest baby formula manufacturer, recalled its products and shut down its Michigan facility.

CBS News White House correspondent Ed O’Keefe asked Jean-Pierre when the White House was informed that the recall of formula was a major issue.

“Day one of the recall, we took action as a whole of government approach with the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] as I just laid out,” the press secretary said. “And the president understands how difficult this is, he understands how challenging this is and we have acknowledged that. He understands that this is the job of the president to be able to multitask, to get things done, especially when it comes to making sure that your child gets healthy food.”

O’Keefe repeated his question, asking when they were informed that “this may need presidential involvement.” Jean-Pierre said she could not provide a timeline, but the administration has been “working on this since the recall in February.”

O’Keefe then asked the press secretary why Abbott was not invited to the White House virtual roundtable addressing the baby solutions and planned solutions to increase imports and production of the products. (RELATED: Biden’s FDA Has Reportedly Not Proven Any Babies Died From Baby Formula) 

“Because Abbott, as you know, they agreed on a path to safely reopen the Sturgis facility after safety concerns that the FDA called them out on, so we understand Abbott is working hard to get back to safely making infant formula,” she replied. “That process is ongoing and should remain between them and we are encouraged by the progress they’ve made today. Today is about progress and action, we can take to ramp up right now.”

A reporter similarly said Jean-Pierre’s response did not address why the president did not know that the shortage would be a “serious problem.”

“That just doesn’t address the question of why it was that the president didn’t know what the manufacturers are saying they knew as soon as the recalls happened, as soon as the plant shut down, that this would be a very serious problem. Was there a breakdown in the process here, did somebody fail to inform him?”

The press secretary said she had “not spoken to the president,” but that he found the empty shelves to be “unacceptable.”

Another White House reporter asked if the administration’s response would have been exactly the same if the president had been informed of the crisis earlier.

“I’m not saying when the president knew or didn’t know, I’m saying that we have been working on this. We as a whole of government approach have been working on this since the recall, which was in February. That is what I’m saying. I’m talking about internally, not just the agencies, not just FDA, SDA, but also internally, we have been working on this for months and we have taken this incredibly seriously.”

Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy asked a similar question to O’Keefe, pressing Jean-Pierre on who decided it was finally time to inform the president on the issue.

“Who is the person in the West Wing who decided after 6-8 weeks that this baby formula shortage was finally something that somebody should tell the president about?” Doocy asked.

“I have to go back and talk to the president,” she said. “I did not hear him take questions or answer any questions to all of you. And so I want to do my due diligence as his spokesperson to make sure that I have a conversation. What I can tell you is what we have been doing as an administration since Day One of the recall. The actions that we took actually made a difference. DPA [Defense Production Act] is actually allowing manufacturers to reliably plan for scaling production.”

She said manufacturers are rapidly increasing their production, including the plan to receive 27.5 million bottles from Bubs Australia. The administration announced Wednesday that “Operation Fly Formula” flights will import 3.7 million 8-ounce bottles of Kendamil formula from London on June 9.

Another reporter further pressed her on the timeline of the crisis, to which she responded with the administration’s response.

“All of my colleagues’ questions have basically gotten to the same point, which is people want to know who in this building knew who, what, when in the lead up to the formula shortage. You said folks internally were on this since Day One, you said that senior leadership in the administration was on it. But you also said that you don’t have that time frame,” he said.

“No, they were asking me specifically about the president and I just don’t have that timeframe,” she said.

“Are you able to provide, or commit to providing a timeline of who, what, when?” he asked.

Jean-Pierre listed the WIC programs, the FDA’s plan to review the crisis and submit an after action report to include a thorough timeline. She then repeated that the White House has worked on the issue since “Day One” of the recall.