Mar 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden redirects American anger to "Putin's price hike"

President Biden is seen speaking beneath a portrait of Teddy Roosevelt.

The Rough Rider looked on as President Biden discussed his ban of Russian energy imports. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Biden's announcement of a U.S. ban on Russian energy imports came loaded with two phrases he wants Americans to remember: "Putin's price hike" and "Putin's war."

Why it matters: Already damaged by inflation and other repercussions of the COVID-19 economy, Biden is using this moment to redirect Americans' anger toward Russian President Vladimir Putin — and to try to insulate himself and the Democratic Party over crucial blame during this midterm year and beyond.

Details: The U.S. president's short speech Tuesday included seven references to "Putin's war," one to "Putin's war machine," one to "Putin's aggression" and another to "Putin's assault."

  • It also included — notably — this line: "I’m going to do everything I can to minimize Putin’s price hike here at home."

The big picture: The invasion of Ukraine is driving up already climbing gas prices ahead of midterm elections that could cost Democrats control of Congress.

  • How high they'll go — and what other literal and figurative costs Americans will face — are as unknowable as Putin's next moves.
  • Even before the invasion, Republicans had made clear they'd try to blame Biden and Democrats for inflation and gas prices. Since it started, they've doubled down.
  • The "Senate Republicans" account on Tuesday tweeted a call for "energy independence now" and a link to a Wall Street Journal article with a photo of $7 a gallon gas in Los Angeles.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) also tweeted, "The answer to Russian energy is American oil and gas. It's not turning to Venezuela or Iran."

  • "The reckless energy policies of this administration is why we have 40-year high inflation and why Vladimir Putin has had a cash windfall to help him fund his aggression."
  • Biden and his advisers have known this was coming and are trying to be strategic about how to blunt its impact. NBC reports on Democratic polling already underway around gas prices.

What we're watching: Biden is trying to set Americans' pocketbook and political expectations ahead of time.

  • He said U.S. gas prices were up 75 cents since Putin began the military buildup on Ukraine's borders and "with this action, it’s going to go up further."
  • That's "no excuse" for oil and gas companies "to exercise excessive price increases or padding profits," he added.
  • Biden also said of GOP criticism that "it’s simply not true that my administration or policies are holding back domestic energy production" and that "even amid the pandemic, companies in the United States pumped more oil during my first year in office than they did during my predecessor’s first year."

What they're saying: Terry Szuplat, a foreign policy speechwriter for former President Obama, said "it would be nice" if Biden's opponents set politics aside for the moment.

  • In the meantime, "It's important for the American people to understand who's responsible."
  • "Wars don’t start on their own. They’re started by people. This one was started by Vladimir Putin. He owns the death. He owns the destruction. And he owns the costs."
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