Republicans seize on rising gas prices amid Ukraine conflict
Republicans running in down-ballot races are using soaring gas prices to go on the offensive against Democrats, posing a challenge for President Biden and his allies on the campaign trail.
Biden and Democrats were already contending with record inflation and rising gas prices well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but Republicans have used the latest price hike to tie their opponents to what they argue is a lack of energy independence under the Biden administration.
On Thursday, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) released an ad titled “Pain at the Pump,” targeting 10 incumbent House Democrats.
“The blame for record-high gas prices lies solely at the feet of Joe Biden and House Democrats,” NRCC Chair Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) said in a statement announcing the ads.
For months, Republicans have been seeking to blame Biden and the Democrats for already high gasoline prices, though analysts largely attributed the high prices seen in recent months to supply and demand mismatches related to the coronavirus pandemic.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine driving gasoline prices even higher, the GOP has grown even more aggressive in seeking to pin the blame on Democratic climate policies.
Biden has sought to deflect the attacks.
“Make no mistake, inflation’s largely the fault of Putin,” the president said Friday in remarks to House Democrats, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I love, you know, the Republicans saying it’s Biden’s gas pipeline, Biden’s said he’s going to stop the Keystone Pipeline and I did and that’s the reason prices went up. Folks let’s get something straight here, the Keystone Pipeline was two years away and had been 2 percent finished. Give me a break,” he added.
The Keystone XL pipeline was about 8 percent built when Biden revoked a key permit for it at the start of 2021, and the company behind it had said it was not expected for completion until 2023. The move has drawn criticism from Republicans, who point to it as an example of the policies they say are weakening the U.S.’s energy independence.
Gas prices reached a record $4.33 per gallon this week, surpassing the previous 2008 record of $4.10. Americans were dealt another tough inflation report this week, which showed that consumer prices rose 0.8 percent in February and 7.9 percent over the last 12 months. Biden reacted to the report by calling it the impacts of “Putin’s price hike.”
“We’ve seen the price of gas go up at least 75 cents since President Putin lined up troops on the border of Ukraine,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday when questioned by Fox News’s Peter Doocy about if the White House is going to “start blaming Putin for everything until the midterms.”
The White House also attempted to ease American concerns this week by arguing that high gas prices will be temporary. Republicans running for election are brushing off this narrative, noting that inflation and gas prices were on the rise well before Russia’s invasion.
“We have seen an overregulation from this administration on the oil and gas industry for the past fifteen months, and now blaming it on Vladimir Putin seems awkwardly convenient,” said Wesley Hunt, a Republican running in Texas’s 38th Congressional District.
The newly drawn district makes up much of the Houston area, which has been nicknamed “the energy capital of the world.” Hunt pointed out that the vast majority of his would-be constituents are especially feeling the pinch of higher gas prices due to the district’s ties to the energy sector.
“We’ve been living this nightmare for the past year and now we know better,” he said.
Biden on Thursday argued that the U.S. is increasing oil production with record productivity and that oil production will be higher this year than in recent previous years.
“The Republicans are playing a game here,” the president said on the GOP messaging.
Analysts say that Russia, rather than Biden, is to blame for the latest spike in gasoline prices.
Claudio Galimberti, senior vice president of analysis at energy research firm Rystad Energy, said that suddenly, following the invasion, the approximately 4 million barrels of oil that Russia supplies daily to the global market have become hard to place, resulting in a “supply shock.”
“We are in a shock because we need to find these barrels somewhere else,” he said.
Before the invasion, high gas prices were largely attributable to supply and demand mismatches because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s a lot of damage that was inflicted by COVID and now Russia on top of that kind of further spreading the gap between supply and demand,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.
Democrats, including those in swing states, are seeing this as an important issue for their constituents.
“It’s a big problem for my constituents and Americans. Not only the price of gas, which is a big deal, but the price of groceries as well,” Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), who is facing a closely watched reelection bid, told The Hill.
Kelly has proposed a suspension of the federal gas tax to provide some price relief — but the measure faces an uphill battle in Congress.
Asked what else should be done, the senator said, “Call on the administration to — let’s look for options to increase production, and we should be calling on oil companies to increase production.”
Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Tom Nelson, a progressive, praised Biden’s moves against Russia, but called for a renewable energy strategy going forward.
“How many times are we going to get smacked in the face?” Nelson told The Hill. “We need to have an energy strategy that moves beyond fossil fuels.”
“That’s a big reason why I support the Green New Deal because it’s a matter of energy security, national security, and global security,” he added.
Biden and down-ballot Democrats face an uphill battle going into the midterms. A Wall Street Journal poll released on Friday found that only 42 percent of respondents said they approved of Biden’s job performance. On top of that, 63 percent of voters said they disapproved of how Biden has handled inflation. Forty-seven percent said they believed Republicans were better situated to handle inflation, while 30 percent said the same about Democrats.
Democratic Party officials have acknowledged rising prices at the pump but are also accusing Republicans of politicizing the issue.
“Republicans are only looking for political talking points,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison. “They don’t care about the impact on the pocketbooks of people. They don’t care about the difficulties that it presents. Democrats are looking for solutions.”
Democratic strategist Jon Reinish said that Democrats should be able to fight back against the messaging from the right.
“Show voters all that Democrats are trying to do to ease pain at the pump,” he said. “Show them everything Republicans are not doing, and have never done and how cynically they’re trying to use the issue as a political football instead of actually trying to address the problem.”
He added that with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Democrats may actually be in a better position on high gasoline prices than they were previously.
“There’s a more unifying and tangible explanation for the most recent spike that Americans can automatically understand,” he said.
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