WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined the bipartisan chorus of lawmakers calling for the Biden administration to stop Russian oil imports.
“I’m all for it,” Pelosi said at a Thursday press conference. “Ban the oil coming from Russia.”
The U.S. and most of the world have harshly sanctioned Russia for its war in Ukraine, crushing Russia’s currency and potentially collapsing its economy, but made an exception for Russian oil so as to avoid harming consumers with higher gas prices.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is “very open” to the idea of sanctioning Russian oil and gas, though it is concerned how it would impact energy prices at home and abroad.
“We’re considering it, it’s very much on the table, but we need to weigh what all of the impacts will be. We’re not trying to hurt ourselves, we’re trying to hurt President Putin and the Russian economy,” Psaki said Wednesday in an interview on MSNBC.
Republicans have unanimously said Biden should stop the oil imports and also undo restrictions on domestic oil production, such as by greenlighting the Keystone pipeline and allowing energy companies to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — longtime GOP priorities. Democrats such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have also called for sanctions to include Russian energy.
“It is simply inexplicable that we and other Western nations continue to spend billions of dollars on energy from Russia,” Manchin said this week. “This funding directly supports Putin’s ability to stay in power and execute a war on the people of Ukraine.”
The war has already pushed up crude oil prices, partly because supply has decreased due to oil traders preemptively shunning Russian crude just because it might be sanctioned later. It’s all happening at a time when overall price inflation has already surged to the highest level in 40 years.
Federal Reserve chair pro tempore Jerome Powell told lawmakers this week that the Fed is keeping a close eye on how Ukraine could affect oil and other commodity prices, but that the war’s effect on the economy would be unpredictable.
“The effects are going to be passed through into gas prices, into lower economic activity, and into inflation, headline inflation,” Powell told the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, adding that he didn’t know how substantial the effects would be.
Powell said the Fed would raise interest rates starting this month to stymie inflation by slowing the economy, hopefully without causing a recession.
To counteract higher gas prices increase, Biden announced in his State of the Union address this week that the U.S. would tap its strategic petroleum reserve.
“I’m taking robust action to make sure the pain of our sanctions is targeted at the Russian economy and that we use every tool at our disposal to protect American businesses and consumers,” Biden said.
Russian crude represented a small but growing fraction of overall U.S. oil imports in the past year, so it’s possible cutting it off would spike gasoline prices and worsen overall inflation. But Manchin said inflation would not result.
“We’re producing a million a million barrels less a day than we have shown that we can easily do,” Manchin told HuffPost.
As they demand the U.S. stop Russian oil and gas imports, Republicans are also ratcheting up attacks against the Biden administration for causing high gas prices across the country. Their strategy is putting Democrats in a box just months from the November midterm elections.
Republicans conceded, however, that increased domestic production would not necessarily replace Russian imports in the short term.
“Obviously, trying to build new infrastructure is a challenge,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told HuffPost. “But I mean, a long journey starts with the first step. And so I think sending a message to the fossil fuel sector that they’re not persona non grata, and we don’t need them, would be a good start.”
Climate hawks argued that the Ukraine crisis underscored the need to wean the U.S. off fossil fuels, and that although immediate steps can be taken to stabilize energy supplies, the long-term prioritizing of renewable energy shouldn’t be ditched outright.
“It is our dependence on fossil energy that creates the power for these petro-fascists around the world,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said.