White House eyes reducing Russian oil imports
President Biden is considering steps to reduce U.S. imports of Russian oil, the White House said Friday, as bipartisan support in Congress for a ban on the imports grows amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We are looking at options we could take right now to cut U.S. consumption of Russian energy, but we are very focused on minimizing the impact to families,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a briefing Friday afternoon. “If you reduce supply in the global marketplace, you are going to raise gas prices.”
Psaki declined to explicitly lay out the specific steps that Biden is considering. Bloomberg News reported Friday that the White House is considering a ban on U.S. imports of Russian crude oil in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Psaki noted that Biden administration officials Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein have been in talks with global suppliers about alternative sources of energy amid the crisis in Ukraine. McGurk and Hochstein recently traveled to Saudi Arabia for talks with officials there.
“He’ll consider and continue to discuss with his team other steps we could take domestically,” Psaki said, referring to Biden.
The White House has not taken banning Russian oil imports off the table, but officials have seemed cool to the idea, arguing that it would raise domestic energy prices.
Biden has also been keen to coordinate his penalties on Moscow with European allies, who are averse to restricting Russian oil and natural gas due to their reliance on Russian energy.
“The unity is what makes the sanctions work,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain said in an interview with the “Pod Save America” podcast this week. “Once you get to these sanctions on oil and natural gas, it gets more complicated on keeping everyone together.”
Still, the idea of banning Russian energy has gained bipartisan traction in the U.S. Oil and gas are a huge money maker for the Kremlin, and an import prohibition would adversely impact the Russian economy, which has already been hit hard by Western sanctions.
About 3 percent of crude oil shipments to the U.S. came from Russia last year. Russia accounts for about 10 percent of the global oil supply and is the third largest producer after the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate released legislation Thursday that would block U.S. imports of Russian oil. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also backed the idea at a news conference.
“I’m all for that — ban it,” Pelosi said. “Ban the oil coming from Russia.”
The White House has said that it is not in the United States’ “strategic interest” to reduce the global energy supply in response to the growing calls.
Asked Friday what changed, Psaki said that the administration’s position had not shifted.
“I wouldn’t say our decision has changed in any way from yesterday. There isn’t a strategic interest in reducing global oil supply because that will increase the price of barrels of oil and increase gas prices,” she said. “We are looking at ways to reduce the import of Russian oil, while also making sure that we are maintaining the global supply needs out there.”
She also would not say whether Biden would sign the bill introduced Thursday should it pass, offering only that the administration remains engaged with Congress.
White House Council of Economic Advisers Chair Cecilia Rouse, who also appeared at Friday’s briefing, said that it would be “essential” for the administration to ensure the global supply of energy remains steady.
Asked about Russian oil imports on a call with reporters on Friday, a senior Energy Department official said that it will “continue to do everything that we can to maintain a steady global supply of energy and deal with an unprecedented situation.”
The official said the department was both providing analysis to the White House and “actively engaging” with members of Congress and others “as we all try to think about the best way forward here.”
—Rachel Frazin contributed. Updated at 5:28 p.m.