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Friday, March 31, 2023

US House Approves the Complete Ban on Russian Oil Imports

The House decisively passed legislation on Wednesday night banning Russian oil imports into the United States, putting into law President Joe Biden’s restrictions issued in response to the worsening violence in Ukraine.

Beyond Biden’s oil import ban, the bill making its way through Congress would also encourage a review of Russia’s status in the World Trade Organization and signal US support for sanctions against Russian officials for human rights violations, as part of the US’s effort to economically isolate the regime.

Lawmakers from both parties have been ready to act, even if it means risking higher gas costs at home in order to show US bipartisanship by supporting Ukraine. The bill passed 414-17 on Wednesday and now heads to the Senate.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, a co-author of the bill, recognized that it may be more expensive to fuel up tanks at home in order to block Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tanks from attacking other countries.

During the argument, Doggett stated, “It is one way to display our togetherness.”

The unprecedented bipartisan commitment in Congress to discourage Russia and assist Ukraine has functioned as a catalyst for the Biden administration’s own approach, forcing it to move faster than it otherwise would have – a rare example of the legislative branch interfering in foreign policy.

Only a few days ago, the Biden administration was hesitant to impose a ban on Russian oil imports, fearful of limiting global energy supplies and creating gas price rises at a time when American families are already experiencing record-high inflation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said ahead of the vote, “We’ve been talking about doing the Russian (energy) prohibition for a while, and we’re very glad the president has done that.”

While Russian oil accounts for a modest percentage of U.S. imports, it comes at a high cost for members in Congress who see the embargo as a moral test in denying Putin’s regime’s economic lifeblood. During a weekend video conference with parliamentarians, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea” for assistance, which appeared to move MPs.

“Democrats and Republicans alike stand with the people of Ukraine,” said Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Pa.

Republicans would have wanted a harder law on Russia, combined with moves to enable greater energy production in the United States, according to House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy. Regardless, they wanted to express their support.

McCarthy stated, “Our conference overwhelmingly does not want Russian oil; we want American oil.”

Former President Donald Trump called Putin a “genius” for his Ukraine policy, which the GOP leader distanced himself from.

“I don’t think Putin is very astute or brilliant. Putin, in my opinion, is a bad guy. McCarthy described him as a tyrant.

The move comes as Congress prepares to approve roughly $14 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, a package that has grown in size as the battle becomes more deadly. In the biggest dramatic departure since World War II, more than 2 million Ukrainians have abandoned the nation.

Since Biden has already proclaimed the Russian oil embargo, the measure is symbolic in many respects. However, Congress’ drive for sanctions on additional Russian imports, which the administration has so far rejected, sets up the next clash over Russia’s commercial position.

Over the weekend, the White House intervened as key House and Senate members readied a more punishing bill that would begin to deprive Russia of its permanent normal trade relationship status — a move that would have opened the way to taxes on additional Russian-made goods entering the US.

Despite the administration’s objections, Democratic leaders in Congress decided to put the bill on hold rather than risk a confrontation with the president of their party.

Instead, the new House proposal stops short of terminating Russia’s usual trading status. Rather, it requests that Russia’s standing at the World Trade Organization be reviewed. The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act should be strengthened, according to the House bill, so that the president can impose penalties on anybody who has “directly or indirectly engaged in significant human rights abuse.”

Democrats in Congress are torn between pressing their agenda and giving the Biden administration freedom as it works with partners in Europe and abroad to put an end to Putin’s conflict.

Senators, on the other hand, are keen to stifle Russian commerce by imposing import restrictions on the United States, and Republican senators may attempt to change the measure once it comes up for consideration in the Senate, which is expected to happen this week. In its original form, the bipartisan measure would have halted regular commercial contacts with Russia and Belarus, a Russian ally that has been used as a launch pad for invasions into northern Ukraine.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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