- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2022

Top congressional lawmakers announced Monday that they reached a bipartisan deal on legislation to ban Russian energy imports and suspend normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus for the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The decisive, bipartisan action is forcing President Biden to rethink his resistance to a crackdown on Russian oil imports. It puts the White House in the uncomfortable position of following lawmakers’ lead on foreign policy or engaging in a veto showdown with a Democratic-run Congress.

The legislation, which Congress is expected to approve this week, would mark a major shift in domestic energy consumption away from Russian oil as the U.S. looks to further punish the country economically.

The proposal would alter trade relations by further increasing tariffs on products from Russia and Belarus, by seeking Russia’s suspension from the World Trade Organization and by preventing Belarus from joining the group.

A bipartisan coalition of leaders from the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee announced they had “agreed on a legislative path forward” for the energy ban and new trade relations.

“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 Democrats and Republicans said in a joint statement.

“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,” the statement said.

The bipartisan legislation comes as an increasing number of lawmakers have called for ending U.S. imports of nearly 700,000 barrels of Russian oil per day, despite the likelihood that it would further raise prices at the pump.

The Biden administration, facing bipartisan pressure, backed away over the weekend from its previous opposition to an oil-import ban.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was in talks about banning Russian oil with its European allies, who are far more reliant on Russian energy. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz recoiled from the idea on Tuesday, saying that Russian imports are of “essential importance” because of the inability to immediately shift to other energy sources, according to Bloomberg. 

Others, however, such as U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have begun thinking about what was previously unthinkable.

“Something that perhaps three or four weeks ago we would never have considered is now very much on the table,” Mr. Johnson said when reporters asked about giving up Russian oil.

The White House remained non-committal Monday on whether it would unilaterally impose a ban or if it would seek to block congressional action. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that “no decision has been made at this point” on a ban.

The White House and some Democratic opponents on Capitol Hill have echoed warnings from industry analysts that an embargo would likely further inflate prices that are already at record highs.

“The president is focused on ensuring we are continuing to take steps to deliver punishing economic consequences while taking all action necessary to limit the impact of prices,” Ms. Psaki said.

Gasoline prices pushed further into record territory on Monday amid momentum toward a Russian energy ban. 

The average gallon of regular gas was at $4.07, up roughly 46 cents from just one week ago, according to AAA. WTI crude, the U.S. benchmark, was up nearly 4% to about $120 per barrel. Brent crude, the global standard, was up nearly 5.5% at $124.50 per barrel.

The details of the bipartisan deal and when it could reach final passage remain murky.

Lawmakers are expected to pass a government-funding package worth roughly $1.5 trillion in the coming days, but the oil ban and trade restrictions likely would advance through stand-alone legislation.  

Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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