House passes Russian energy ban, but fate in Senate uncertain

House passes Russian energy ban, but fate in Senate uncertain

The House approved legislation Wednesday night that would ban Russian energy imports, a move that came on the heels of President Biden issuing his own embargo via executive order.
 
The House bill to cease all imports of Russian oil, natural gas and coal received overwhelming bipartisan support, passing by a vote of 414-17.

Still, questions loomed over whether the Democratic-led Senate will consider the legislation amid hesitancy among some Democrats about stepping on Mr. Biden‘s toes.

The pressure from Congress over the past week to ban U.S. imports of Russian energy and stem the flow of money funding Moscow’s war machine in Ukraine ultimately forced Mr. Biden to take executive action on a ban Tuesday.

The step is expected to increase prices at the pump even more as the national average for unleaded gas breaks all-time highs each day. That number on Wednesday was at $4.25 per gallon, up nearly 60 cents from one week ago.

But despite the president’s unilateral move, many lawmakers expressed a willingness to pass their own legislation codifying Mr. Biden’s ban. The House measure goes several steps further than his executive action and would add some conditions around Mr. Biden lifting or altering the sanctions.

Democratic proponents argued the legislation would also strengthen the executive order against legal challenges and offer lawmakers a political victory for voters back home.

In addition to placing an embargo on all Russian energy products, the House measure would require the U.S. to seek Russia’s suspension from the World Trade Organization while barring Belarus from joining.

It would also subject the president’s restoring Russian imports to a congressional veto, and would reauthorize and strengthen legislation that makes it easier for the president to slap more sanctions on foreign leaders.

Should Mr. Biden seek to ease sanctions, Congress would have 90 days to block such action. The carve-out was an important one for some Democrats, particularly more far-left members, who worried that too many conditions would tie Mr. Biden’s hands amid a fluid foreign policy conflict.

But despite watering down the legislation, some Democrats questioned whether any congressional action was necessary.

“I don’t know that we need it,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat and chair of the Progressive Caucus, who voted for the ban. “My biggest concern is making sure we preserve some options for [Mr. Biden] to take to stop this war.”

Between the White House and leaders in Congress, Democrats have been out of sync on a Russian energy ban.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, was quick with public calls for an embargo, while Mr. Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer only eased their opposition in response to bipartisan pressure.

Mrs. Pelosi denied that the House moving forward with a ban in the wake of Mr. Biden‘s executive action would create tension between Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill and the White House.

“No, I think we’re all pretty good. We’re all pretty good. It’s all about time, and we’ve been talking about doing the Russian ban for a while, and we’re so pleased that the president has done that,” she told reporters. “We have strong bipartisan support for the legislation.”

Mr. Schumer has not committed to holding a vote on the House-passed ban.

“We first have to see what the House passes, and then we’ll discuss things with the administration and find the best way to make sure that the … oil import ban is tight and tough,” the New York Democrat told reporters this week.

Other Democratic senators and close allies of Mr. Biden expressed similar hesitation. Some offered blunt criticism.

“Maybe I’m misunderstanding. If the president [signs] an executive order, why is there a need to legislate in the House?” said Sen. Chris Coons, Connecticut Democrat and confidant to Mr. Biden. “Good for them, that’s great. God bless.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, similarly argued that Congress did not need to act.

“I think there’s some reason to give the administration flexibility here,” Mr. Murphy said. “They’ve done what Congress has asked. I’m not sure that it’s necessary to tie their hands.”