This week: Baby formula shortage hearings, Senate set for domestic terror bill fight

·5 min read

The commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and a top Abbott executive are slated to appear for a hearing before a House subcommittee this week, as Congress continues to address the nationwide baby formula shortage causing concern for parents across the country.

On the Senate side, Democratic leaders are looking to move the House-passed domestic terrorism bill, which was brought up in the lower chamber days after a gunman opened fire at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., shooting 13 people, 11 of whom were Black. Ten victims were killed.

And a federal judge’s decision to temporarily block the Biden administration from ending Title 42 will likely reverberate throughout the Capitol this week, as lawmakers react to the bombshell decision on the Trump-era border policy that allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants at the border.

Baby formula hearings

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on Wednesday, as Congress continues to dig into the baby formula shortage. The hearing is titled “Formula Safety and Supply: Protecting the Health of America’s Babies.”

Abbott Senior Vice President of U.S. Nutrition Christopher J. Calamari is also slated to speak with the congressional panel. His appearance comes amid increased scrutiny of Abbott, one of the biggest formula manufacturers in the U.S., which Biden administration officials have blamed for the formula shortage.

Abbott shuttered operations at a Michigan manufacturing plant in February after four infants who consumed formula made at the facility were hospitalized with a rare bacterial infection. An inspection by the FDA discovered unsanitary conditions at the plant.

Last week, however, the company said it reached a deal with the FDA for a path to resume operations at the facility.

Executives from Gerber Products Company and Reckitt, two other baby formula manufacturers, are also slated to testify before the congressional panel.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies is also set to hold a separate hearing on Wednesday, titled “The Infant Formula Crisis.”

The pair of hearings come one week after the House approved two pieces of legislation that seek to address the infant formula shortage.

One of the bills, titled the Access to Baby Formula Act, was approved in the House by a 414-9 vote and passed through the Senate by unanimous consent. It now heads to President Biden’s desk.

The other piece of legislation, dubbed the Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, would allocate $28 million in emergency funding to the FDA to bolster inspections of formula manufactured at foreign facilities and work to prevent future scarcities.

The bill passed the House 231-192 in a mainly party-line vote but now faces headwinds in the Senate, where Republicans are arguing that funneling more money to the health agency is not the answer to the shortage.

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, told The Hill on Thursday that the emergency funding “may or may not serve to solve some long-term problems at FDA,” and expressed doubt regarding the effect the supplemental will have in the “upcoming weeks for people who need baby formula.”

Senate fight brewing over domestic terror bill

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is expected to schedule a preliminary vote on the House-passed domestic terrorism bill this week. Republicans, however, are vowing to block the legislation in the upper chamber, where it needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

Schumer on Wednesday said he will file cloture on the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act this week after the House approved the measure in a mainly party-line vote of 222-203. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) was the only Republican to support the bill.

The bill seeks to create domestic terrorism offices at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI that would be responsible for monitoring and examining possible terror activity.

“It sounds terrible,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said of the legislation, predicting that it will not garner enough GOP support to proceed.

The Missouri Republican said he was concerned that giving the DHS and DOJ authority to monitor domestic terrorism could lead to a federal watch over political speech and spark disproportionate monitoring of anti-government and anti-immigrant activists, rather than extreme left-wing factions.

“I’m completely opposed to this idea that we would be giving the federal government and federal law enforcement power and authority to surveil Americans, to engage in any kind of monitoring of speech that is directed toward censorship,” Hawley said.

Title 42 fallout

A federal judge in Louisiana on Friday temporarily blocked the Biden administration from rolling back Title 42, the policy established during the Trump administration amid the COVID-19 pandemic that allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants at the border and prevents them from seeking asylum.

The policy was set to end on Monday, but its future is now unclear.

After the Biden administration last month announced that it was rescinding Title 42, more than 20 states quickly filed a lawsuit demanding the policy remain in place, arguing that it was needed to prevent immigrants and drugs from entering the U.S. illegally.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Summerhays granted a preliminary injunction to the state attorneys general who challenged the Biden administration’s decision, writing that such a measure “is necessary for complete relief given the ability of immigrants crossing the border to move freely from one state to another.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration will appeal the ruling.

The judge’s decision could also change the dynamics in the debate over COVID-19 aid. Senate Democrats have tried to push through new funding, but Republicans have insisted on also holding a vote to reverse Title 42.

A vote on the controversial policy, however, is politically risky for Democrats, since some moderate members of party and those running for reelection would likely join Republicans in calling for Title 42 to remain intact.

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