Biden administration considers ban on U.S. imports of Russian oil

Russia is one of the world's largest energy producers of both crude oil and natural gas. Prices for both commodities have skyrocketed since the war started almost two weeks ago, and they are near record territory. Europe especially relies on Russian natural gas. But now, the Biden White House is raising possible new, harsh sanctions on this vital sector. Geoff Bennett reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Russia is one of the world's largest energy producers of both crude oil and natural gas. Prices for both commodities have skyrocketed since the war started almost two weeks ago. And they are in near record territory.

    Europe especially relies on Russia natural gas. But now the Biden White House is raising possible new harsh sanctions on this vital sector.

    Geoff Bennett picks up the story from there.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The Biden administration tonight is considering a ban on U.S. imports of Russian crude oil to punish the Kremlin for its invasion of Ukraine and to further isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime.

    Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. is actively discussing the matter with European allies.

    Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State: We are now talking to our European allies and partners to look, in a coordinated way, at the prospect of banning the import of Russian oil, while making sure that there is still an appropriate supply of oil on world markets.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Outrage over Putin's bloody war with Ukraine has prompted lawmakers from across the political spectrum to demand the U.S. ban imports of Russian oil.

    Senators Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, recently introduced legislation that would block the flow of Russian oil and gas into the U.S. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also backs the idea.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):

    I'm all for that. Ban it.

  • Question:

    Ban the oil?

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    Ban the coming from Russia. yes.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    President Biden, though, has been reluctant to curb Russian oil shipments to the U.S. or impose energy sanctions in ways that would reduce supply, since rising inflation and high gas prices have been key concerns for Democrats as they try to defend their fragile majorities in the House and the Senate in this midterm election year.

    Across the country, gas prices are nearing all-time highs, hovering just above $4 a gallon, with the cost of gas having inched up every day since the Russian invasion.

  • Man:

    Yesterday, it was $4.29. Now it's $4.39. I don't know what to do about it.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The president also risks backlash from environmentalists, who argue the U.S. should not use Russia's Ukraine invasion to expand domestic oil or gas drilling, which some Republicans have been urging.

    Beyond the political considerations, two administration sources say the White House is still assessing whether a U.S. ban would actually hurt the Russian economy, since Russia sends most of its petroleum products to Europe and Asia.

    Cecilia Rouse, Chair, White House Council of Economic Advisers: We don't import a lot of Russian oil, but we are looking at options that we can take right now if we were to cut the U.S. consumption of Russian energy.

    But what's really most important is we — that we maintain a steady supply of global energy.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Russian oil made up only about 3 percent of all the crude shipments that arrived in the U.S. last year, according to government data.

    Some experts caution, a U.S. ban could force other countries to follow suit, sending oil prices soaring around the globe. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki today said the president is still deliberating.

  • Jen Pskai, White House Press Secretary:

    Well, no decision has been made at this point by the president about a ban on imports — a ban on importing oil from Russia.

    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.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is among those pushing back against blocking Russian energy exports, saying today in a statement: "At the moment, Europe's supply of energy for heat generation, mobility, power supply and industry cannot be secured in any other way. It is therefore of essential importance for the provision of public services and the daily lives of our citizens."

    The U.S. oil industry, for its part, has come out in support of a ban on Russian oil imports. U.S. refiners say they have already started relying less on Russian supply. Meantime, as President Biden announced in his State of the Union address, he is releasing 30 million barrels of oil from U.S. Strategic Reserves, part of a global effort to ease oil supplies amid the Ukraine war, as the White House weighs whether to impose a total ban on Russian oil.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Geoff Bennett.

Listen to this Segment