Rising gas prices pose a new election-year challenge for President Joe Biden. It weighs concerns about costs at the pump in the United States against calls from both sides for tougher sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin following his invasion of Ukraine.
In announcing a ban on US imports of Russian oil on Tuesday, Biden was candid in warning that while the move would hurt Putin, “there will also be a cost here in the United States.” He sought to avoid blame for it by dubbing it “Putin’s price hike”.
Later, during a visit to Texas, Biden was asked if he had a message for the American people on gas prices and he replied, “They’re going to go up.”
“There’s not much I can do right now,” the president added in response to questions. “Russia is responsible”.
It’s a message the president may need to reinforce repeatedly in the coming days as American drivers adjust to the shock of rapidly rising gasoline prices, which have reached a record average of 4 $.17 a gallon on Tuesday, according to AAA. That increase, combined with concerns about the rising cost of other goods, could add to the headwinds Democrats face heading into this year’s midterm elections.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sought to frame the moment as one that goes beyond politics.
“For many in our caucus, and I think on the other side, it’s a moral issue,” he said. “You don’t want to fuel the Russian war effort.”
Still, leading Republicans blamed Biden for rising gas prices and attacked the White House for promoting environmental climate change measures they said had hurt U.S. energy production on the internal market and contributed to driving up fuel prices.
At the same time, many GOP members have pressured the president to cut Russian oil imports, a factor contributing to market volatility. Last year, the United States imported nearly 700,000 barrels a day of crude oil and refined petroleum products from Putin’s country.
Former President Donald Trump, who is almost alone in his party to call Putin “smart” after the invasion, released a statement citing record gas prices and asked “YOU MISS ME AGAIN? “
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said “Democratic policies are the reason we’re here in the first place.”
Republican Representative August Pfluger, who represents part of the West Texas oil patch, called the ban on Russian oil imports “a big one” but also a “lesser step”.
“It’s time to unleash American oil and gas,” Pfluger said, arguing that “the White House’s assault on the oil and gas industry has created weakness in the United States.”
Caught in the middle is much of the American public, torn between a desire to support Ukraine and a ready wallet to get even tighter. A Quinnipiac University poll released on Monday – ahead of Biden’s announcement of Russian imports – found as many as 7 in 10 Americans suggested they would support a ‘Russian oil ban’, even if it meant a hike. gas prices.
But many drivers said the sticker shock still took a long time to digest.
“How long can this last? Will we be willing to pay four, five, six dollars a gallon? wondered Vikas Grover, refueling in the Washington suburb of Herndon, Va., before the White House announcement of Russian oil.
“It just upsets the whole budget,” Grover said. “If it becomes unsustainable, you know, everything collapses.”
David Custer, a Virginia resident who was paying $60 to fill up his SUV before Tuesday’s announcement, said Biden should reverse executive actions he took to protect the environment during his take office and instead promote “energy independence” for the United States.
“Those working to fix the problem will get my vote,” Custer said. “Those who continue on the path we have taken recently will not.”
Still, Asiya Joseph, who was refueling in Brooklyn, New York, said, “I don’t think it’s fair to blame the Democrats for something that maybe isn’t in their control.”
“It’s a response to what’s happening in Ukraine,” said Joseph, who added that COVID also likely contributed to the price hike.
Samantha Gross, fellow and director of the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at the Democratic-leaning Brookings Institution, said gas prices were already on the rise as global markets faced growing demand amid the coronavirus pandemic. was beginning to decline – but are up even more amid questions over international sourcing due to the Russian-Ukrainian war.
“You go down (the road) and there’s the price and a big sign right next to you. So we are always very aware of the price of gasoline. And that’s often a big political issue for whoever’s in charge of the presidency and Congress,” Gross said. “But, the truth is that oil prices are set in a global market based on global conditions. And there’s very, very little Congress or the president can actually do about them. »
Even if Biden were to relax environmental rules, it is unlikely that U.S. oil and natural gas production could increase fast enough to mitigate the current spike in prices at the pump. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has approached oil-rich Venezuela and its socialist President Nicolás Maduro – drawing even more criticism from Republicans.
“We should never think that foreign oil is better than American energy independence,” said Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican from New Mexico. She also criticized the Biden administration for abandoning work on the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline. Even if this project had been allowed to proceed, it probably would not have been completed enough to immediately stabilize oil prices.
Gross said the Biden administration could tap more into the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve, as it did to try to calm rising gasoline prices in November. The White House announced Tuesday that it has committed to releasing more than 90 million barrels from the reserve this fiscal year.
“In the short term, that’s the way to help keep prices down,” Gross said. “But in the long term, if we continue to see President Putin’s war effort, it’s a difficult situation.”
Associated Press reporter Dan Huff contributed to this report.
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