Pelosi backs ban on Russian oil imports
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday threw her weight behind the growing push to ban imports of oil and gas from Russia as a next-level punishment for President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Biden administration has already adopted a series of tough sanctions on Moscow in an effort to end Russia’s siege, which entered its eighth day on Thursday. But the U.S. exempted gas and oil, which provides a significant percentage of the fuel used by some European allies and, to a lesser extent, the United States.
Given the certainty of market disruptions, the administration is treading carefully around the issue, particularly since gas prices have already spiked across the country over the last year as part of a larger inflationary trend.
Pelosi said Thursday that she doesn’t want gas prices to rise any higher, but also endorsed the ban on Russian oil in no uncertain terms.
“I’m all for that — ban it,” Pelosi said. “Ban the oil coming from Russia.”
The comments arrive as Republicans, joined by some Democrats, have hammered the administration for adopting economic sanctions that exempted Russia’s single largest industry. That carve-out, they argue, is providing Moscow with hundreds of millions of dollars in cash revenue each day from the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom — essentially, they say, bankrolling Putin’s invasion.
“Forty percent going into Europe, almost 10 percent into the United States of America, we are importing Russian energy,” Rep. Mike McCaul (Texas), senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters this week. “This needs to stop. We are funding Putin’s war machine.”
President Biden has not ruled the option of installing such a ban.
“Nothing is off the table,” he said Wednesday.
Still, the administration is wary of adopting policies that would hit consumers at the pump, where prices have already topped $5 in parts of the country.
“We don’t have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday on Air Force One. “That would raise prices at the gas pump for Americans and pad Putin’s profits.”
Yet a growing number of lawmakers in both parties are coming around to the idea that a fuel ban is the single largest lever the U.S. and Europe have in confronting Putin — and is, therefore, worth any domestic sacrifices that might follow.
Rep. Lisa Murkowski (R), who represents oil-rich Alaska, said this week that Americans should be willing to accept a bump in gas prices as a necessary cost of combating Russian aggression and saving Ukrainian lives.
“This is going to hurt. But we all need to recognize Europe is in the midst of a war with Russia now. Innocent people are dying, children are dying,” she said. “We have not been in as volatile as a situation as anytime in my life.”
In the absence of federal fuel sanctions, a number of major U.S. gas companies — including BP, Shell and Exxon — have stepped in unilaterally to cut back their operations in Russia. The moves reflect both the enormous public pressure on the corporate world to cut ties with Putin’s regime, as well as the financial risk of continuing business as usual in a country led by an increasingly volatile leader.
Amid the crisis, Republicans are also pressing Biden to increase oil and gas production at home, including moves to expand drilling both offshore and on federal lands.
“President Biden needs to stop financing Putin’s war with Russian oil because he shut off the spigots of American energy,” Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the Republican whip, said this week.
The administration has rejected that strategy, not least because it defies Biden’s efforts to tackle climate change. And Pelosi on Thursday defended the White House position.
“I’m not for drilling on public lands,” she said.
Morgan Chalfant contributed.
Updated at 12:53 p.m.