Nat’l Economic Council Head Deese: Biden Was Informed on Formula at ‘Appropriate’ Times, He Didn’t Know until April Due to Abbott

On Wednesday’s broadcast of CNN’s “The Lead,” White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese stated that President Joe Biden wasn’t informed about the baby formula crisis until April because “it took too long for Abbott to agree to a consent decree,” and argued that “the president’s role in this has been, at the right and appropriate moments, when we needed to do things like the Defense Production Act, when we needed to take extraordinary measures like Operation Fly Formula, he has been informed, he has directed the action that we have taken.”

Host Jake Tapper asked, “The White House has said the administration’s been working on the issue since February. So, how come President Biden didn’t know it was going to be bad until April?”

Deese responded, “Well, let me just clarify what’s going on here. We were informed by the FDA of the closure in February. And from that point, the FDA and the staff across the administration, in all of the relevant agencies in the White House, was working to try to address the issue. Part of the reason why production has increased and the companies that were here today have been able to increase production by as much as they have is they’ve been working on this issue now for months. But it took too long for Abbott to agree to a consent decree, and once it was clear that that facility was not going to be able to come back online sooner, then it was clear that we were going to have a more significant challenge. So, at that point, the president was informed. And the president directed us to use all the available tools that we had available to address them.”

Tapper then asked, “I guess I still just don’t fully understand why you didn’t tell the president until April if the problem was reported to the FDA last fall, the FDA didn’t check it out until, I think, December, and then they shut down the factory in February. The president, the guy who — the only one who can invoke the Defense Production Act to force companies to produce this incredibly, direly needed infant formula, he’s not told until April. Karine Jean-Pierre, your Press Secretary, just said this has been a ‘whole of government approach[.]’ That doesn’t include the president?”

Deese answered, “The FDA took the appropriate measures to shut down the facility in February. And when that happened, the FDA and the relevant officials from across the government were on — focused on the effort to try to increase production from other producers and also figure out how quickly they could get that facility back online. It took too long to get that facility back online. It took too long to get Abbott to agree to a consent decree. Once it was clear that that facility was not going to be able to come back online, it was clear we were going to need to even more greatly increase production, particularly of those specialty formulas. But I want to be very clear that the president’s role in this has been, at the right and appropriate moments, when we needed to do things like the Defense Production Act, when we needed to take extraordinary measures like Operation Fly Formula, he has been informed, he has directed the action that we have taken.”

Tapper then asked, “Okay, so the whistleblower complained in the fall. The FDA waited until December to act, waited until February to shut the plant down. President Biden wasn’t told about it until April, you don’t think any of that should have been done more quickly or sooner? You think everything just went exactly how it’s supposed to?”

Deese responded, “Look, the FDA commissioner has already said that he will conduct a thorough investigation to make sure that we understand fully the timeline, and I will leave that — those evaluations with respect to the facility and making safety judgments, I will leave to the FDA. Once the facility was shut down, what was clear was that we were going to need to do two things: One, the FDA was going to have to work to reach a consent decree with Abbott to get that facility back going, and that other producers were going to need to ramp up their production. It did not happen fast enough that the consent decree with Abbott was reached, and as a result, we are in a position where we had to then take extraordinary measures to rely on production from other facilities. Those extraordinary measures required the president’s direct intervention and that’s what the president has directed and that’s what the president has done.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett

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