Congress nearing Russian oil ban, but Psaki says Biden still unsure

by mcardinal

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News


Their names rarely come up in the day-to-day interparty bickering that permeates the Washington Beltway, but a quartet of well-placed legislators announced Monday that Congress was nearing the completion of a bipartisan bill that would suspend all trade with Russia and Belarus and ban Russian oil imports.

As first reported by CNN, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), along with Representatives Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Kevin Brady (R-Texas) cosigned a letter in which they said they’d soon introduce legislation that would not only temporarily break all trade ties but require U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to angle for Russia’s suspension from the World Trade Organization and grant President Joe Biden the authority to increase tariffs on Russia and Belarus.

This announcement might easily be lost in the now daily deluge of Russia-related sanction talk, but it’s hard to understate the meaningfulness of this joint statement.

While not the household names of their more outspoken counterparts in either house, these four lawmakers are among the most influential members of the legislative branch.

Wyden is the chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, on which Crapo serves as ranking member. Similarly, Neal is the chair and Brady the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

“Taking these actions will send a clear message to Putin that his war is unacceptable and the United States stands firmly with our NATO allies,” the group’s letter reads. “While Congress needs to do more, as the congressional leaders with jurisdiction over our nation’s trade policy, we are committed to using the tools at our disposal to stop Russia’s unconscionable and unjust war on Ukraine and to hold Belarus accountable for its involvement.”

With so many competing Russian oil ban bills floating through the legislature – Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) have announced varying types of Russian oil legislation – it’s a near inevitability that Congress will pass a bill that at minimum prevents the import of fossil fuels from Russia.

Whether President Biden agrees to sign this bill into law remains uncertain.

“[No] decision has been made at this point by the President about a ban on … importing of oil from Russia,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during her Monday press briefing. She added, “I would note that what the President is most focused on is ensuring we are continuing to take steps to deliver punishing economic consequences on Putin while taking all action necessary to limit the impact to prices at the gas pump.”

If the U.S. enacts a temporary ban, it would likely be the only Western power to do so. As first reported by Reuters, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have been cool on such a ban.

“[It] is likely just the U.S if it happens,” a senior U.S. official told Reuters.

Psaki likewise indicated there would be difficulty garnering international cooperation on an oil ban.

“[If] you look at Russian imports, they account for about a third currently of Europe’s oil imports,” Psaki said, later adding, “So, obviously, we are also very well aware as we’re having these conversations and as we’re consulting with our partners that … we have different capacities and capabilities.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2020 about 7% of the oil the U.S. imported came from Russia, which ranked behind Canada (52%), OPEC (11%), Mexico (10%), and a collective of countries in the Persian Gulf (10%) and was tied with Saudi Arabia.