The Ukraine crisis, President BidenJoe BidenHouse passes bill banning Russian oil imports, authorizing sanctionsWhite House congratulates South Korea’s new president, citing ‘ironclad’ allianceExpected rent spike adds to record inflationMOREs ban on Russian oil and gas imports and the soaring price of gas are coalescing into one red-hot political issue.

For Republicans, the electoral benefit to be gleaned from holding Biden to blame for rising prices at the pump is plain.

But Biden and Democrats shoot back that much of the GOP criticism is disingenuous or, as the president himself put it on Tuesday, simply not true.


Biden has acknowledged that an effective response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine will mean some pain for Americans.

This is a step that were taking to inflict further pain on Putin. But there will be costs as well here in the United States, Biden said from the White House on Tuesday as he announced the ban. Defending freedom is going to cost … us as well.

Some of those costs are being felt right away. The average price of gas in the United States has repeatedly breached records in recent days. The latest all-time high was set on Wednesday, when the national average reached $4.20 per gallon, according to GasBuddy.

Republicans have clamored to blame Bidens energy and environmental policies for the rise, even as they are largely supportive of the ban on Russian imports.

House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseMore than one-quarter of Congress has had COVID-19Lobbying worldPelosi backs ban on Russian oil importsMORE (R-La.) and House Republican Conference Chair Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikStefanik’s PAC releases latest round of endorsements for GOP women candidates Trump not invited to conservative AEI eventGOP leaders blame Biden ‘weakness’ for Russian invasion of UkraineMORE (R-N.Y.) have each accused Biden of mounting a war on American energy. The Republican National Committee has attacked Biden for doubling down on his radical green agenda.

But there are real questions when it comes to the specifics of those broad-stroke GOP attacks, according to some experts.

Republicans trying to use this as a wedge to fight environmental restrictions that they perceive exist is a red herring and does not deserve to enter into this discussion right now, said Alfred Marcus, an energy specialist at the University of Minnesotas Carlson School of Management. It is an old grievance that they have, and it is not constructive.

The Republican critique of Biden when it comes to energy has three main prongs: that his moratorium on new drilling leases on federal lands has curbed U.S. production; that his halting of the Keystone XL pipeline has had detrimental effects; and that a general ideological hostility to fossil fuels has created uncertainty among American producers.

Objectively speaking, there are problems with at least the first two of those charges.

The moratorium was met with a successful court challenge in June last year. The Biden administration to the chagrin of environmentalists gave the go-ahead for roughly 3,500 oil and gas drilling permits in the presidents first year in office. The figure is about 25 percent higher than the equivalent number during former President TrumpDonald TrumpWhite House congratulates South Korea’s new president, citing ‘ironclad’ allianceRNC sues over Jan. 6 panel’s subpoena of SalesforceRussia’s war on Ukraine upends nuclear talks with IranMOREs first year in office.

The idea that the U.S. domestic energy industry has been brought to its knees by a green agenda is hard to square with figures from the Energy Information Agency (EIA), which notes that between January 2021 and February 2022, 220 new drilling rigs were added to the lower 48 states. The EIA also projects that 2023 will see U.S. domestic production hit an all-time high.

The long-term effects of Keystone are hotly debated but, immediately prior to its cancellation, the pipeline was only scheduled to go into operation in 2023.

The question of whether Bidens policies have contributed to a general environment of uncertainty for domestic energy producers is harder to answer definitively.

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiHouse passes bill banning Russian oil imports, authorizing sanctionsUK to urge West to ‘ramp up the global pressure on Putin’Overnight Defense & National Security US rules out combat aircraft for Ukraine MORE has repeatedly emphasized in recent days that there are 9,000 permits that have already been granted, but where no drilling is so far taking place.

In a combative exchange Wednesday with Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy, Psaki said of energy companies, I dont think they need an embroidered invitation to drill.

The energy industry complains the White House charge is unfair and that drilling takes time and careful calibration of risk. Many producers also claim that there is an oppressive regulatory environment.

But both sides, and independent experts, acknowledge that one major driver of U.S. production is simply the price of oil, which needs to be high enough to justify expensive extraction procedures.

I hate the term U.S. energy policy in general because the U.S. energy sector is a market, not a policy, said James Bushnell, an economics professor at the University of California, Davis, and an energy expert. Both sides of the aisle like to talk as if the president or Congress can pull a lever and make more or less oil, or more or less greenhouse gases. Market forces are by far the dominant driver of everything that happens in the U.S. energy sector.

Another wrinkle in the debate is the question of whether the U.S. should restrict or outright ban exports of crude oil produced in America.

That question doesnt break down neatly along ideological lines. Some Democrats on the left of the party, such as Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaPelosi leading congressional delegation to Israel, Germany, UKOvernight Energy & Environment Virginia lawmakers block ex-Trump EPA chiefDemocrats go after Big Oil climate pledges, calling them insufficient MORE (D-Calif.), have previously expressed support for the idea, while it is also becoming a talking point among the more populist reaches of conservative media.

Among Democrats, Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsLawmakers wary of potential oil talks with Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and IranPoll: Rubio leads Demings by 7 points in FloridaTexas rabbi held hostage tells lawmakers houses of worship need more security fundingMORE (Fla.), who is seeking a Senate seat this year, on Tuesday called for action to immediately restrict the export of American-made gasoline which is currently being shipped for sale in foreign markets.

Demings added, Gasoline produced in America should be consumed in America, bringing down costs for working families right away.

But those kinds of views get major pushback from political moderates and from the energy industry. Opponents of a ban say it could prove counterproductive, raising prices by distorting the global market and deepening the current havoc.

If we do that, then it is going to create complete chaos for our trading partners, who are also our allies who we need to be on board with respect to Ukraine. Why would we do that? It would be a very significant misstep that would hurt us and hurt our allies even more said Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moodys Analytics.

The duration of elevated gas prices is impossible to predict given the situation in Ukraine.

Polls, for now, show American voters saying they are willing to put up with some pain to punish Putin.

A NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll released Wednesday found 65 percent of Americans in favor of sanctions on Russia, even if those sanctions increased gas prices.

But those figures could change as fast as the gas prices themselves.

If that happens, the political ramifications could be explosive.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.