WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s strategy in dealing with the domestic fallout of gas price hikes is for Americans to focus their anger on one man: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Biden and his administration have rallied around the phrase “Putin price hike” to describe the energy inflation challenges posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and retaliatory Western sanctions.
“I will do everything I can to minimize Putin’s price hike here at home,” Biden said in a Twitter post on Tuesday.
Already battling inflation at a 40-year high, Biden on Tuesday imposed a ban on US imports of Russian oil, adding pressure on crude prices, which are hovering near a 14-year high.
The move is likely to boost US pump prices, which are already above $4 a gallon in many places. This will present the Democratic president with a political problem that Republicans are keen to tackle ahead of the November midterm elections, where control of Congress is at stake.
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So far, the White House has been heartened by the American response to Russia’s oil ban.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday found that around 80% of respondents – including solid bipartisan majorities – said Americans should not buy oil or gas from Russia during the conflict, even if it leads to a rise in gasoline prices .
“Americans across the country understand that there is a price to pay for the sanctions we are imposing to pressure Putin and support the president’s actions,” a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.
Still, those numbers could shift against Biden as gas prices rise. The government has already started examining scenarios in which the price of oil exceeds $200 a barrel, a second senior government official told Reuters.
The White House reckons Americans, appalled by images of Ukrainian civilians being attacked by Russian forces, will blame Putin as the real culprit. Biden offered reporters a blunt message Tuesday while traveling to Fort Worth, Texas.
“They’re going to go up,” Biden said of gasoline prices. “Russia is responsible.”
Oil prices are up more than 30% since Russia invaded Ukraine and the United States and other countries imposed a raft of sanctions.
Republicans, hoping to wrest control of Congress from Biden’s party in November, relentlessly criticized his handling of the energy issue.
In recent weeks they have started selling stickers to put next to gas pump prices showing Biden pointing and saying, “I did that.”
Republicans say Biden has the power to unleash far more energy production than is currently taking place in the United States, while government officials say US oil companies are not using all available drilling permits.
The Biden administration is considering a variety of options to mitigate the impact of high pump prices, but is realistic about the pain to come.
“Obviously there are scenarios where they could go higher. We are trying to ensure these scenarios do not… materialize and are trying our best to mitigate the impact of Russian aggression,” the second official told Reuters.
When asked if the Biden administration could enact a “gas tax holiday” or make other direct payments to consumers, this official said, “We’re looking at … all the tools we have at our disposal.”
The official also said coordination with countries around the world, including the release of strategic oil reserves, will continue even as the government works with domestic producers on measures to increase domestic production.
The official said the government is not considering banning US energy exports.
“We are focused on making sure we get relief in the global market,” the official said. “The key here is to ensure that this global market is adequately supplied.”