Joe Biden has been bragging about how tough he is on Russia after Putin began a war of aggression in Ukraine. Indeed, the sanctions that Biden and most European countries have imposed on Russia in the wake of the invasion are among the most severe in history, including excluding Russia from the SWIFT network of financial transactions.
So why was Biden jawboning Democratic senators, strongarming them to vote against one of the most devastating sanctions of all: banning the import of Russian oil into the U.S.?
While the United States doesn’t import a lot of oil from Russia, the U.S. ban would set an example for other nations to halt the import of Russian oil. And even if no countries followed our example, the ban would be the ultimate rejection of Russia and its war aims by the U.S. Congress.
There is legislation being sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that’s gaining co-sponsors and momentum. And with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on board for the ban, such a measure could probably pass easily.
But Biden wants the oil ban “in his hip pocket” to use in a more dire situation.
Why it matters: The quiet lobbying campaign reveals a White House intent on preserving President Biden’s authority to decide what costs to impose on Russia for invading Ukraine — and on what timetable.
It also indicates his advisers’ frustration with congressional efforts to box him in.
The White House on Friday signaled it is open to reducing the import of Russian oil — without saying exactly how.
The big picture: A ban could translate to higher prices at the pump in parts of the U.S. and increase inflation, a key concern for Biden.
It also could force other countries to follow suit — sending oil prices soaring around the globe. Russia, the world’s third-largest oil producer, sends most of its petroleum products to Europe and Asia.
In fact, Biden is giving priority to “global energy supplies” rather than damaging Russia by using Russia’s dependence on oil exports to keep its economy afloat.
Driving the news: Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, told reporters on Friday: “We are looking at options that we can take right now, if we were to cut the U.S. consumption of Russian energy, but what’s really most important is that we maintain a steady supply of global energy.”
That appears to be a shift from the White House’s initial dismissal of the congressional effort to effectively impose an embargo on Russian oil for U.S. refiners.
Gas prices are going to rise anyway because of the war. And after running for president promising his policies would cut domestic supply and raise prices, Biden has no standing to carp about rising gas prices.
But that’s not important to Biden now. What matters is his political survival. And there are a helluva lot more ordinary Americans who are livid about $4-per-gallon gas than there are greens who might think Biden is doing what’s necessary to save the planet.