White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said President Biden is “looking at options” to halt Russian oil and natural gas exports after bipartisan pressure from Congress— but only if it can be done without raising gas prices as Russia invades Ukraine.
A reporter pressed Psaki at her daily press briefing about the “really broad range of bipartisan support behind legislation to ban Russian oil imports” after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed a push led by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
“We are looking at options we could take right now to cut US consumption of Russian energy, but we are very focused on minimizing the impact to families. If you reduce supply in the global marketplace, you are going to raise gas prices,” Psaki said. “You’re going to raise the price of oil and that is something the president is very mindful of and focused on.”
Annie Linskey of the Washington Post, however, noted that the Wall Street Journal found companies already reduced Russian oil purchases, possibly meaning that “you’re not really losing that much by banning Russian oil because nobody is really buying it.”
“Well, I think what most experts on global markets would say, though, is that reducing global oil supply would have an impact on the price of barrels of oil and ultimately gas prices,” Psaki countered.
Another reporter asked Psaki if Biden was reluctant to take action against lucrative Russian energy exports because of Western Europe’s reliance on natural gas.
“We have from the beginning taken steps in coordination with our allies and partners in Europe and that continues to be the first principle for the president,” Psaki said.
“Obviously as we’re making any decisions in this space that would apply. But what also applies to this space is our focus and I think the focus of the Europeans as well on not taking steps that would create increased volatility in the global oil markets, increase the price of oil, a barrel of oil, or increase gas prices.”
Pelosi on Thursday broke with Biden and said, “I’m all for that … ban the oil coming from Russia.”
Other Democrats were more pointed. “It is so obviously apparent that we need to cut it off. I wonder if there’s a reason we haven’t [and] what the hell the reason is,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told NBC News.
Psaki said Thursday that “we don’t have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy” but that “if you look at publicly available data, it’s only about 10 percent of our imports.”
Biden took no questions from reporters Thursday or Friday, but he said while announcing new sanctions against Russian businessmen Thursday that “the goal is to maximize the impact on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Russia and minimize the harm and loss to our allies and friends around the world.”
High gas prices generally are bad news politically for the party in charge in DC and Democrats currently hold the White House and both chambers of Congress.
Deputy White House national security adviser Daleep Singh told reporters last week that “our sanctions are not designed to cause any disruption to the current flow of energy from Russia to the world.”
Biden said Wednesday he’s open to banning Russian energy exports — telling a reporter on the White House lawn that “nothing is off the table” — before Psaki proceeded to lay out why it wasn’t happening.
Biden initially announced limited sanctions last week against state-owned Russian banks and certain Russian businessmen when tanks rolled across Ukraine’s borders. After criticism, Biden sanctioned Putin’s vast personal wealth and reached an agreement with US allies to unplug Russia from the SWIFT international banking system.
It’s unclear how the Biden administration would offset Russian oil imports, but the US reportedly is close to reaching a new nuclear deal with Iran that could result in the release of large quantities of new supply.
Biden this week authorized the distribution of oil from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve after the war caused gas prices to spike to a seven-year high, potentially worsening already soaring inflation.
The US imported about 200,000 barrels of oil from Russia per day in 2021, about 3 percent of its total intake, according to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.