Another Washington Post author shifts blame for Biden's Russian oil stance onto the GOP

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik, file)

Yesterday I wrote about Greg Sargent’s piece in the Washington Post complaining that dastardly Republicans had set a political trap for Joe Biden. What I didn’t notice until today is that another opinion writer at the Post wrote almost the same piece yesterday afternoon. Catherine Rampell’s version was published about 7 hours later under the headline “Republicans are laying a trap for Biden on Russian energy sanctions.” It’s basically the same piece but written in a more straightforward manner.


In just a few days, there has been a dramatic change in political consensus over how to respond to Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine…

Now, U.S. lawmakers say, we must cut Russia off from global energy markets. Why would Putin capitulate, after all, unless we block the life blood of Russia’s economy? Both Democrats and Republicanshave insisted that we stop our (relatively small) energy imports from Russia, which might pressure our European allies (who depend much more heavily on Russian oil and natural gas) to do the same.

Like Sargent, Rampell admits the president could actually make the case for this if he were so inclined.

U.S. politicians could make the case that higher energy prices are a cost of defending freedom and democracy, upholding international law, resisting armed aggression. We’re not sending American sons and daughters into this war, they could say; instead, Americans’ sacrifice could be economic.

From there she goes into an argument about how unleashing domestic production, which many Republicans have been demanding, won’t help us anytime soon. That’s arguable I guess but by the same token going all in on green energy won’t help us in the next few months either. We’re facing a short term problem for which there are no easy solutions.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Republicans have a point about things like the Keystone XL pipeline. If that pipeline hadn’t become a political football during the Obama administration we’d have more options now. Instead our best options now include turning to Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia for more oil. Eventually Rampell gets to this closing which makes the GOP the center of this story.


If Republicans truly believe our patriotic duty is to orchestrate a Western embargo of Russian energy, they should commit, today, to not politically exploiting the economic pain such sanctions will inevitably cause American consumers.

Republicans should commit to not playing politics over the thing that Democrats in the White House, up to today, have been playing politics over.

This is really just another “Republicans seizing” story, i.e. an attempt to distract readers from the actual story which is bad news for Democrats. The actual story here is pretty simple. Democrats in the White House made a calculated decision not to ban Russian oil imports because they were worried higher gas prices would hurt them in the next election. But here we are a week later and it appears the administration is about to reverse course and ban those same imports.

Why? It’s not happening because the Biden administration has suddenly decided to listen to the GOP. Remember, the pressure to do this is bipartisan. It’s coming from Democrats as well, including Nancy Pelosi.

The real problem is that Biden’s original plan makes very little sense. If we’re going to put in place crushing sanctions on Russia to force them to withdraw from Ukraine, then continuing to send them billions of dollars for oil is counterproductive. We know those dollars will inevitably be used to fund the Russian war machine so we can’t keep buying the oil and pretend we’re all in on sanctions. It’s one or the other.


But the White House knows there will be a price to pay. The price of gas is already up sharply in the first week of this war and that’s before we stop buying Russian oil. Knocking a big hole (about 6%) in our imports means those price increases will continue and will remain high until we have a substitute supply. And all of that means President Biden’s best option is to sell the American people on this being a noble sacrifice. And, hey, Stephen Colbert has already come up with a slogan for the White House: “A clean conscience is worth a buck or two.”

What Rampell and Sargent are arguing, in so many words, is that the GOP should help Biden sell this, or at least not make it harder for him to do that. That’s a nice thought but it’s not likely to happen. Republicans know it certainly wouldn’t happen if the roles were reversed in this little drama. After the past four years, Democrats are really in no position to ask Republicans to take it easy on the president because he’s engaged in foreign policy with Russia. That’s just not how Democrats have been playing the game.


The political problem Biden faces is a lot like the energy problem he faces. Both could have been mitigated by a different approach over the past 5-7 years and neither problem can be easily fixed in the short term. And so the White House is left with an array of bad options to deal with a current crisis. But blaming all of that on the GOP as if Democrats are facing an unprecedented partisan trap and not a problem at least partly of their own making is absurd.

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