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Opinion Ending Russian oil imports, Biden anticipates disingenuous GOP attacks

President Biden delivers remarks regarding the ban of imports of Russian oil to the United States, at the White House on March 8. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

President Biden on Tuesday rolled out a new ban on oil and natural gas from Russia. What was noticeable was the extent to which he anticipated and rebutted Republicans’ partisan attacks. Just as the administration revealed Russia’s plans to use false-flag tactics so as to disarm them, Biden is preparing the public for the avalanche of disingenuous attacks sure to come.

First, Biden made clear that while the United States can ban energy imports, the European Union is in a far different place, given the extent of its reliance on Russian energy. This is not a sign of “disunity” as some media and GOP pundits insist whenever the U.S. and E.U. are not in lockstep. This is reality.

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However, Britain joined the United States in declaring it would end Russian oil imports by next year. And the E.U. did take an extraordinary step. The Post reports, “The European Commission on Tuesday presented a plan to cut Russian gas imports by two thirds this year, steeply reducing — but not severing — energy ties to Moscow. The proposal … is a dramatic shift,” given that 40 percent of the E.U.’s gas and 25 percent of its oil comes from Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine already spelled the death of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; now, he is accelerating Europe’s energy independence. Once again, Putin’s gross miscalculation has had the opposite of his desired result.

Second, Biden also conceded up front that his ban would not be cost-free. “The decision today is not without cost here at home. Putin’s war is already hurting American families at the gas pump,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to minimize Putin’s price hike here at home.” However, he also warned oil companies against price-gouging.

Finally, and most important politically, Biden addressed the already prevalent and false accusation from Republicans that his administration has somehow hamstrung energy extraction domestically. He pointed out that 90 percent of drilling is on private lands, and of the 10 percent on government-owned land, more than 9,000 permits have been granted but sit unused. In short, don’t blame the federal government if domestic producers are not tapping existing supplies.

We should not be so naive to think Republicans will restrain themselves from making baseless accusations. In Republicans’ right-wing media bubble, Democrats are the enemy of cheap domestic oil. Therefore, while Republicans encouraged the import ban, the price hikes must be Biden’s fault. See how that works?

This time, Biden tried to flip the script on Republicans and also Democratic friends of oil and coal such as Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). Biden explained that the one surefire way to reduce energy costs is to shift to renewable energy, freeing us from dependence on both domestic and imported oil. “Loosening environmental regulations or pulling back clean energy investment won’t lower energy prices for families,” he said. “But transforming our economy to run on [electric vehicles], powered by clean energy, will mean that in the future, no one has to worry about gas prices.” Instead of expanding oil fields, we should be “racing toward” the goal of energy independence. We’ll see if that has any impact on Manchin, who nixed the Build Back Better package with its major green energy component.

In sum, ending U.S. energy imports from Russia won’t be the body blow some politicians seem to think it is. Nevertheless, in a war for the hearts and minds of the public, even symbolic actions are critical. As Biden reiterated, the war is not going as Putin planned and while he might occupy Ukraine, he’ll never defeat Ukraine’s people nor recover economically so long as the West continues to wreak havoc on Russia’s entire system. Adding to Putin’s troubles even minimally was the right choice for Biden; preparing for the GOP’s dishonest attacks, sadly, is essential these days.