Biden commerce secretary shifts blame for inflation on to Russia’s war in Ukraine

<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

Joe Biden’s commerce secretary Gina Raimondo attempted on Sunday to shift blame for the US inflation crisis back onto Russia’s war in Ukraine, days after another cabinet member admitted the presidential administration had made failures in predicting its impact on the economy.

Janet Yellen, the treasury secretary, conceded last week she made an error in 2021 when she said inflation, which has only recently dropped from a near 40-year high, posed merely a “small risk”.

“I think I was wrong then about the path that inflation would take,” Yellen told CNN last Tuesday.

In her appearance on the same network’s State of the Union on Sunday, Raimondo pointed to “unexpected” developments that had derailed the global economy, and insisted: “We will get inflation under control.”

She said: “I don’t think anyone predicted (Russian president Vladimir) Putin’s war in Ukraine, or various other things that have happened that have been unexpected. It’s worth noting that gas prices are up $1.40 a gallon since Putin moved troops into Ukraine.”

Her comments will be seen as part of a concerted White House push to deflect blame for the nation’s economic troubles away from Biden, who has faced accusations of ignoring experts’ warnings over inflation and, more recently, the baby formula shortage.

Calling inflation his “top domestic priority”, the president and his acolytes have embarked on a messaging campaign in recent weeks directed at voters in November’s midterm elections, and playing up his economic successes such as the bipartisan infrastructure act.

It comes as gas prices reach almost record daily highs, up to $4.84 a gallon according to the AAA, the cost of groceries and services continue to soar, and new parents scramble to find baby formula.

Raimondo herself appeared to torpedo the effort later in the interview by admitting she only learned of issues with formula in April, the same time as Biden. But production at the nation’s biggest manufacturing plant, owned by Abbott in Michigan, was closed down after bacteria was found during inspections as early as January, and problems were evident at the site late last year.

“I’m not involved in the administration’s response here, but I think they’re doing a very good job and as soon as they learned that this could be a severe shortage they got on top of it,” she said.

The Michigan facility resumed production this weekend after a lengthy shutdown, although it will likely be several weeks before formula appears on shelves.

In another sign of growing disconnect in Democratic circles over the economy, California congressman Adam Schiff spoke out strongly on Sunday against Biden’s planned summer trip to Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s leading oil producing nations.

“We should make every effort to lower oil prices, but going hat-in-hand to someone who’s murdered an American resident would not be on my list,” Schiff said on CBS’ Face the Nation, referring to the implication of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

“I wouldn’t go,” Schiff continued. “I wouldn’t shake his hand. I would want to see Saudi Arabia lower oil prices, or increase their production [and] I’d want to see them make changes in their human rights record. I want to see them hold people accountable that were involved in that (Khashoggi) murder … before I would extend that kind of dignity.”