Mar 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP moves to force Biden-Dem split over oil sanctions

Illustration of a donkey torn in half.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Senate Republicans are trying to force Democrats to pick between a policy many of them support and President Biden, who opposes it.

Driving the news: The Republicans want to expand an oil sanctions bill so it includes a provision suspending Russia’s permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status, which would put its trade relationship with the U.S. in the same category as North Korea and Cuba.

  • In the post 9/11 era, lawmakers — especially Democrats — have attempted to constrain presidents from both parties and prevent them from escalating foreign conflicts.

Why it matters: With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Congress is pushing in the opposite direction: pressing the president to be more aggressive.

  • From kicking Russia off the SWIFT financial system to imposing an embargo on Russian energy products, and now working to revoke Russia’s PNTR status, Congress has been forcing the White House's hand.
  • Revoking PNTR would allow new tariffs on imports from Russia and Belarus.
  • The White House is trying to calibrate its actions as it seeks to preserve off-ramps for Russia amid escalating rhetoric and sanctions.

What we’re hearing: Senate Republicans are looking for the best avenue to vote on revoking PNTR status.

  • “There’s definitely an effort to add an amendment [to put PNTR] back into [the House] bill once it gets over,” a senior GOP Senate aide told Axios.
  • “One way or the other, we’re going to try to move it,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.
  • An amendment, he said, is the "option that I would like to do.”

The other side: The White House has been working aggressively to protect the president's prerogative with foreign policy, and to keep U.S. actions aligned with those of its allies.

  • "The administration is working with members of Congress and WTO members to hold Russia accountable for Putin’s premeditated, unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine," a spokesperson for U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai told Axios.
  • Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told Axios, “I don’t think we should be doing anything that serves [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s goal of splitting the United States from Europe.”

The big picture: Congressional leaders from both parties are in favor of stripping Russia of its PNTR privileges.

The original bipartisan deal on sanctions announced Monday included the measure.

Pelosi has since indicated her party still wants to pass the provisions in the original bill.

Go deeper