In response, angry US lawmakers from across the political spectrum are publicly urging the administration to hit Putin where it hurts the most: imposing sanctions on Russia’s massive energy sector. They also introduced several proposals in the last few days that would end Russian oil imports to the US during this crisis.
“If the current sanctions were enough, that 40-mile convoy of Russian tanks wouldn’t be headed to Kyiv as it is now. Time is short. We need to act now with more resistance,” Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday at a crowded GOP news conference calling for energy sanctions.
In a sign of bipartisan appeal, the top House Democrat responded enthusiastically when asked about the idea by a reporter on Thursday.
“I’m all for that. Ban it,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at her weekly policy news conference.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois told CNN on Thursday that he hopes more Democrats continue to align behind sanctioning Russia’s energy sector.
“I think there’s a way to do it that can put pressure on them. It just infuriates me to think that we are dependent on Russian gas and oil,” he said.
A Democratic lawmaker who supports sanctioning Russian oil exports said the White House faces a difficult decision because of the potential ramifications, like how it could roil the energy markets, driving up gas prices domestically. There’s also a political dimension at play because Republicans have been hammering Biden and other Democrats on climbing gas prices for months.
While Republicans also called for the President to take this step, the lawmaker said, there’s no reason for the White House to believe that GOP attacks on gas prices would stop because of new Russian sanctions.
Bipartisan support for blocking Russian oil imports, but a divide on next steps
While there is now significant bipartisan support to cut off oil imports, Republicans and Democrats have different opinions on how to deal with the unavoidable impact on American oil prices, views that reflect long-held policy debates about domestic oil and gas production.
According to the American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers trade association, roughly 3% of US crude imports came from Russia in 2021.
Several senators have introduced their own legislation in recent days to ban Russian oil imports, ranging from a bill backed by progressive Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts to one by conservative Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan pair of centrists from energy-producing states — Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — announced legislation to cut off Russian oil and increase US domestic production to make up for it.
“It makes no sense at all for us to continue importing energy from Russia while they are attacking a friendly nation seeking democracy and that the whole world has rallied behind, nor does it make sense for us to call on OPEC countries to increase production when we’re not willing to do it ourselves, despite our abundant resources,” Manchin said Thursday at a meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs.
Manchin sent Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer a draft of his proposed bipartisan measure and Schumer is reviewing it, according to a spokesperson for the New York Democrat.
The West Virginia moderate also said at the hearing that he stood by the Biden administration when it called for a pause on the federal leasing programs last year, “but the time for pausing has come and gone, and despite a court ruling saying the same, the administration continues to drag its feet when it comes to leasing on federal lands and in federal waters.”
The Biden administration had reversed Trump-era policies that opened the leasing of federal lands for natural gas production. It also closed the Keystone pipeline, which would have increased domestic oil supply.
“If we end these Biden restrictions on our ability to produce oil and gas and to not only have that oil and gas here for our consumers, it’ll reduce inflation,” said Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican from energy-rich North Dakota. “We can also produce it though LNG facilities in Europe, and then we can shut down Russia and isolate Russia and completely end their ability to get any revenue from oil and gas sales, which is how they get their funds.”
Durbin was asked by CNN what he thinks the next step should be if the US bans Russian oil, and whether he’s open to ramping up domestic production as Manchin proposed. He said he sees the world a “little different” than his colleague from West Virginia.
“We have a hot war in Ukraine. We also have a war against climate change,” he said. “And we’ve got to resolve our strategy to work for both.”
Pressed on what he thinks the US should do instead, Durbin said he wasn’t sure.
“I’m not sure. I think other countries, according to the President the other night. are going to provide us with more oil resources,” he said.
But countries like Saudi Arabia — where the US also gets oil — have pledged not to put more supply into the market. This is part of the standing OPEC+ agreement, a pact made by 10 major crude oil producers and Russia to gradually pump more oil into the market to meet demand.
If the US does stop importing oil from Russia, the deficit must be made up somewhere — either by producing more oil and natural gas at home or spending more money to buy it from other countries abroad, which could threaten an already volatile energy market.
Even though Russia’s oil sector hasn’t been sanctioned yet, the impact is already being seen in the energy market.
“It’s increasingly clear that the Russian [oil] volumes are being ostracized,” Kaneva said. “We are experiencing a shortage at the moment.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that the administration has “no assessment” on whether it is moving closer to banning Russian imports.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he thinks the administration needs to “take a hard look” at imposing energy sanctions on Russia.
“It’s a complicated question of how you do that and whether it makes sense to do that with Europe,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t make a lot of sense to continue to import Russian oil when we could find other sources.”
“What likely will happen is that, you know, that oil will find its way to China and we’ll fill in with other sources. So it might not have as big an impact on Russia as we might think. But it still feels like the right thing to do,” Murphy added.
A bipartisan sanctions package failed to materialize in February before the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, and it’s unclear whether a sanctions package banning energy imports could come together.
Some Democratic senators say it would be better for the administration to take the lead on these actions and coordinate with US allies.
“I think it’d makes more sense for the administration to do this and to try to do it in coordination with Europe,” Murphy said.
CNN’s Ted Barrett, Jeremy Herb, Morgan Rimmer, Jessica Dean, Lauren Fox and Matt Egan contributed to this report.