House passes bill banning Russian oil imports, authorizing sanctions

Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via Associated Press
Russian President Vladimir Putin in a March 9, 2022, photo.

The House passed legislation on Wednesday to ban imports of Russian oil and authorize further sanctions, following a similar executive order from President Biden. 

Lawmakers passed the bill on a bipartisan basis, 414-17. Only 15 Republicans and two Democrats voted against the bill.

The vote now puts members of both parties on record backing an action that is likely to further increase gas prices, which are already reaching record levels in the U.S. due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

As of Wednesday, the average price of regular gas was $4.25 a gallon, up about 60 cents from just a week ago. Just a month ago, the average price was $3.47.

The vote to ban imports of Russian energy products is effectively symbolic, since it follows President Biden’s move on Tuesday to target one of Russia’s main sources of wealth. But it highlighted a rare area of bipartisan unity between Democrats and Republicans.

Aside from banning the import of Russian oil, the legislation also sought to limit Russia’s access to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and reauthorized legislation that enabled sanctions on human rights abusers.

But it stopped short of an original bipartisan agreement earlier this week crafted by the leaders of congressional committees with jurisdiction over trade policy. That proposal would have suspended normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus.

Members of both parties have been pushing for such punitive measures for several days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A bipartisan measure, led by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is one of several bills aiming for a ban that have been introduced in the Senate on the issue.

“The more economic pain we inflict on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, the more pressure he will feel to finally end this brutal campaign of terror on the Ukrainian people,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.).

The Biden administration had initially been wary of taking any actions that could further raise gas prices. 

“We don’t have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters last week. “That would raise prices at the gas pump for Americans and pad Putin’s profits.” 

But the widespread support for banning Russian oil gained momentum in recent days with top Democratic leaders including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as well as Republicans, calling for the move.

The Biden administration has approved permits to drill on public land at a comparable rate as the Trump administration, according to an analysis by Public Citizen. 

But Republicans used the opportunity to blame Biden for the rising gas prices and called for increasing domestic production. 

“This week our president, our American president, asked Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to increase oil production, asked them to boost their outputs so that American consumers wouldn’t see a spike in gas prices,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas). 

“I couldn’t help to think to myself, what a strange thing to ask. Because surely he knows we can also boost domestic production right here at home,” Crenshaw added. 

The oil market is global, meaning that presidential policies have relatively little influence over it. But critics have historically sought to pin the blame on the president, especially in the face of energy policies they disagree with. 

The import ban passed by the House on Wednesday would take effect in 45 days. It would also allow the president to make exceptions for energy that was already purchased before the legislation passed, or in cases where the importation would be in the national interest. 

The trade provisions would push the U.S. Trade Representative to use U.S. influence at the WTO to condemn the invasion of Ukraine and encourage other member countries to both suspend trade with Russia and consider suspending Russia’s participation. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai “has been, obviously, engaging with other WTO countries.”  

“It’s not a unilateral step the United States could take or the president could take, but we will continue those conversations as well,” Psaki said.

While the U.S. imports Russian oil, it makes up a relatively small share of the country’s oil supply. The U.S. is the world’s top oil producer, and most of its oil imports come from Canada.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, meanwhile, has pushed oil prices higher. U.S. oil was hovering around $118 per barrel on Wednesday, which is lower than earlier in the week, but up from about $90 per barrel a month ago.

The Biden administration, as well as European allies, have also imposed a range of sanctions against Russia in recent weeks ranging from cutting off some Russian banks’ access to an international banking communication system to personally targeting Putin and other oligarchs.

Tags Dan Crenshaw Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Manchin Karine Jean-Pierre Katherine Tai Lisa Murkowski Nancy Pelosi Richard Neal Russian energy ban Russian oil imports

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