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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Biden administration gets behind coordinated push to cut off Russian oil

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

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Good morning, Early Birds. Please keep Horace the Asian elephant in your thoughts today. Tips: Thanks for waking up with us.

🚨: “Two intruders, at least one of them armed, entered Joint Base Andrews on Sunday night, apparently after the return there of Vice President Harris,” our colleagues Martin Weil and Annie Linskey report. “A spokeswoman for the base said one person had been taken into custody. Another person was still being sought at 10 p.m., she said. No shots were fired and there were no reports of injuries.”

  • “The intruders drove through a security checkpoint at the main gate about 9 p.m., and failed to heed guards’s orders, base officials said late Sunday in a statement.”
  • “Barriers were deployed … The vehicle was stopped, but two people fled, the base said. As of 11 p.m. Sunday, the whereabouts of the second intruder remained unknown … and the main gate to the base remained closed.”
  • “The incident appeared to be one of the most serious breaches of security in memory at Andrews, which is a few miles outside Washington, in the Suitland area of suburban Prince George’s County, Md.”

At the White House

Biden administration gets behind coordinated push to cut off Russian oil

Feeling Ukraine's pain: Under pressure from lawmakers, the Biden administration appears increasingly amenable to barring the importation of Russian oil to the U.S. in retaliation for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, even if it risks hitting Americans where it hurts: at the gas pump.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki warned on Thursday that banning Russian oil imports “would raise prices at the gas pump for the American people” and could also “pad the pockets” of Russian President Vladimir Putin by raising the price of oil.

But on Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was “a very active discussion” about banning Russian oil imports and suggested that the U.S. could go a step further by coordinating with European countries to boycott Russian oil, too.

“We are now talking to our European partners and allies to look in a coordinated way at the prospect of banning the import of Russian oil, while making sure that there is a still an appropriate supply of oil on world markets,” Blinken told CNN's “State of the Union.”

More and more lawmakers in both parties have pushed for a ban on Russian oil imports in recent days, although they've mostly focused on restricting U.S. imports.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Sunday that “the House is currently exploring strong legislation” that “would ban the import of Russian oil and energy products into the United States, repeal normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus, and take the first step to deny Russia access to the World Trade Organization.”

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced a bill of their own late last week, with bipartisan cosponsors.

And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Sunday, “It makes no sense whatsoever to continue to buy oil from Russia that they use to fund this war and this murderous campaign that they’re undertaking.”

But Ukraine's government has pleaded with Washington to go beyond barring Russian oil from the U.S.

During a Zoom call on Saturday with more than 280 lawmakers, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for a worldwide ban on Russian oil, our colleagues Todd Frankel and Mike DeBonis report. And Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., said on Sunday that Ukraine was “asking for a full embargo on oil and gas.”

The effects of a ban

The push to ban Russian oil imports comes as average gas prices have surpassed $4 a gallon in the U.S. and as the price of barrel of oil has surged to more than $118 a barrel. But it's not clear how much of an effect barring Russian oil imports from the U.S. alone would have on prices — or how much it would hurt Russia economically.

“If I’m being honest, it probably doesn’t have a big impact,” said Nikos Tsafos, the James R. Schlesinger chair for energy and geopolitics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

While Russia is the world's third-largest oil producer, Russia accounts for only a small percentage of U.S. oil imports.

“They’ll send it somewhere else,” Tsafos said. “We’ll buy it somewhere else. I think it’s largely a matter of optics.”

The impact of a ban could also be reduced because many of U.S. refiners have already stopped importing Russian oil.

While full data on Russian oil imports in late February won't be available until next month, most if not all U.S. “refiners have ceased importing Russian petroleum products, making it very likely that total US imports of Russian crude oil and refined products is headed to zero in the very near future if not there already,” according to an American Petroleum Institute official.

‘This is a very delicate situation’

A wider ban on Russian oil imports could have a bigger effect on prices than a domestic one.

“The only way to stop Putin is to ban oil and gas exports,” Scott Sheffield, the chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, told the Financial Times on Friday. "[But] if the western world announced that we’re going to ban Russian oil and gas, oil is going to go to $200 a barrel, probably — $150 to $200 easy.”

Such an approach would echo the strategy the U.S. and its allies in Europe and Asia used to pressure Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program during the Obama administration. While the sanctions the Biden administration and its allies have deployed against Russia have brutalized its economy, they're still not as broad as the ones imposed on Iran, according to sanctions experts.

“With Iran, pretty much everything is prohibited with the exception of some very limited transactions,” said Antonia Tzinova, a lawyer at Holland & Knight who advises clients on U.S. sanctions.

Some lawmakers say any broader effort to bar Russian oil imports would need to be carefully coordinated with allies.

“This is a very delicate situation,” Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), who favors suspending Russian oil imports to the U.S., told The Early. “You have to be careful and do it in a way that’s gonna harm Russia’s ability to raise money and not hurt ourselves.”

What we’re reading about the war: 

On the Hill

Bill to overhaul USPS finances faces hefty amendments in the Senate

Keeping the Postal Service reform bill ‘clean’: A $107 billion bill to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service’s finances is set to come up for a cloture vote this afternoon in the Senate, with a final vote likely to come Tuesday, our ace postal reporter Jacob Bogage tells us. It already passed the House in a landslide.

But first, the bill has to make it through a blizzard of some 41 Senate amendments that have the potential to stall the process.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has proposed 12 changes that including eliminating core sections of the legislation — including one deeply unpopular with the Postal Service’s competitors. A amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) would prohibit the Postal Service from offering direct or indirect financial services. That includes money orders, of which the Postal Service handles $21 billion annually.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), meanwhile, has three amendments that try to force the mail agency to purchase electric delivery trucks, rather than gas-powered vehicles.

The amendments are a problem because the key to winning bipartisan support for the bill, sources tell Jacob, was keeping it narrow. Democrats and Republicans each agreed to set aside their priorities for remaking the Postal Service to focus on fixing its troubled balance sheet.

Now the amendments threaten to revive old battles. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the bill’s cosponsors, are whipping hard to pass a clean version of the bill and defeat any poison pills. Follow Jacob on Twitter for updates.

Democrats to introduce covid relief bill paired with Ukraine aid

Happening this week: “Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are set for a showdown over covid-19 relief that threatens to hold up desperately needed aid to Ukraine as the country fights back against Russia’s invasion,” CNN’s Clare Foran and Manu Raju report.

  • “House Democrats plan to introduce a massive bill as soon as Tuesday that would extend government funding through the end of September – and include roughly $10 billion to help bolster Ukraine … But they are setting up a clash with Republicans over covid relief money expected to be included in the sweeping package.”
  • “Negotiations will take place this week to try to secure a deal to pass the bill before a March 11 deadline when government funding expires. Lawmakers are expected to avoid a shutdown, but if a broad funding package doesn’t move quickly, they may be forced to pass another short-term stopgap funding measure.”

On K Street

National Association of Manufacturers vice president joins Youngkin team

Headed to Richmond: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has hired Rob Damschen as his deputy communications director. He was previously the National Association of Manufacturers' vice president of strategic communications.

The Media

What we’re reading: 


It’s always a good time to play soccer

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @theodoricmeyer and @jaxalemany.