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House temporarily punts vote on Russia oil ban

The House now plans to vote Wednesday on a bill banning Russian oil imports to the U.S., delaying one day after eleventh-hour objections from Republicans.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team had planned to vote Tuesday on a bill that would ban Russia imports of oil and other energy products, as well as mandate a review of Russia’s status in the World Trade Organization. Pelosi also said the bipartisan bill would allow the U.S. to impose further sanctions on Russia by updating a human rights bill known as the Magnitsky Act.

But Republicans complained that the bill did not include a key trade provision, which would have revoked normal trading relations with Russia and Belarus after hesitancy from the White House about the policy’s effect on U.S. allies.

“It was taken out because the president rightfully wants to talk to our allies about that action, which I think was appropriate,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday night.

Text of the bill has not yet been released, with senior Democrats still racing to finish drafting it on Tuesday.

Those rapid moves by both the House and Biden also reflect a major course correction for the White House, which has shifted its position on a ban on Russian oil imports to punish the country for its invasion of Ukraine. Just days ago the White House was rejecting the move out of fear that an import ban would send U.S. gas prices skyrocketing. But bipartisan support for the action in both the House and the Senate in recent days has helped drive a shift in Biden’s stance.

“The Congress commends the President for announcing action to stop the import of Russian energy products into the United States — which we will support by passing strong, bipartisan legislation to that effect today,” Pelosi said in a note to lawmakers.

Pelosi first endorsed banning Russian oil imports last week, bolstering support across her caucus.

Pelosi had informed colleagues earlier Tuesday morning that the House would vote on a Russian oil import ban as part of a larger package of measures designed to help Ukraine in its fight to fend off the Russian attack, according to a Democratic aide. The aide said the White House had been suggesting for days it would act but was only now proceeding after pressure from Congress.

It’s less clear if the Senate plans to vote on legislation pushed by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would block Russian oil. Although the measure has strong support, Senate procedures make it difficult for the chamber to move quickly, which could make action there moot.

“If we were to loiter on something like this, our inactivity could be viewed or spun to be division,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

A U.S. ban on Russian oil and petroleum products affects a small slice of the global energy market, as refiners already started shifting to other sources amid rising tensions in Europe.

It would be an entirely different story if Europe too were to swear off purchases of Russian crude, a possibility not being considered by the largest importers like Germany and Poland.

Russian oil last year accounted for about 3 percent of total U.S. consumption. Europe relies much more heavily on Russia’s supply, purchasing more than 2.5 million barrels per day, or about half the country’s exports. Nonetheless, Democrats say their action is the right thing to do and sends a powerful signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose economy is mostly dependent on oil and gas revenues.

“You certainly don’t continue to enrich Vladimir Putin because you are afraid of rising gas prices. That would be the wrong answer. Let’s hit Putin where it hurts.”

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