The price at the gas pump is an American sacrifice worth making for Ukraine

OPINION: President Biden is putting principle over politics in his decision to ban Russian oil and energy resources.

President Biden and Gas Prices
(Photo: Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed. The views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

President Joe Biden’s decision to impose crippling economic sanctions on Russia — including a ban on importing Russian oil, natural gas and coal into the U.S. — following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a just and necessary action, taken despite the political risks it carries for the president.

Biden knows full well that his action will have the unfortunate effect of driving up gasoline and diesel fuel prices in the U.S., hitting Americans hard in our wallets. This will be painful, especially for struggling families trying to make ends meet. But like the eight U.S. senators who future President John F. Kennedy wrote about in his 1956 book “Profiles in Courage,” Biden is putting principle over politics.

U.S. President Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 8, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

I’ve shed tears watching horrific scenes on TV of innocent men, women and children being bombed, shot and terrorized in Ukraine, where Russia is savagely attacking hospitals, schools, apartment buildings and homes in scenes that look like they came out of the Nazi blitzkrieg that ravaged Europe in World War II. In a particularly barbaric act, Russia even bombed a maternity hospital, killing three people (including a child) and wounding 17.

Ukrainians are running out of food, power has been cut in many places, and more than 2 million people — primarily women and children — have fled the country as men stay behind to fight the Russian invaders. The suffering of Ukrainians is far greater than what people in our country will experience paying more to fill up our gas tanks.

Ukrainians and foreign residents wait for trains inside Lviv railway station, Feb. 28, 2022, in Lviv, west Ukraine. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)

Most Americans agree that our sacrifice is worth it. A Quinnipiac University poll published Monday found that an overwhelming majority of 71% of Americans support a ban on Russian oil imports, even if it results in higher gasoline prices. Only 27% of Americans oppose such a ban. In our deeply divided country, it’s rare to get so many people to agree on anything.

Biden is taking a measured course by not sending the U.S. military to fight the Russians in Ukraine. That move could risk starting World War III, with the frightening possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin could escalate to employ chemical or nuclear weapons.

Economic sanctions can have a positive impact. And encouragingly, nations around the world have joined the U.S. at lightning speed to sanction Russia as an international pariah. 

In contrast, the international boycott on South Africa’s racist apartheid regime picked up steam slowly, beginning in 1959 but not finally bringing Black majority rule to that nation until 1994. It’s a sad commentary that it took the world so long to act when the victims of oppression abroad were Black.

The Funeral Of Former South African President Nelson Mandela Is Held At His Tribal Home
People sing near the former South African President Nelson Mandela’s home during his state funeral on December 15, 2013 in Qunu, South Africa. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

What’s also sad is the response of some congressional Republicans, who while urging Biden to ban Russian fossil fuel imports are also attacking him for the effect of the ban — higher gasoline and diesel fuel prices. Their solution is to drill, drill and drill some more in the U.S. to boost oil production, and complete the canceled Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. 

Here’s the truth that Republicans won’t acknowledge: Oil production in the U.S. has increased since Biden took office, rising from 9.7 million barrels a day to 11.6 million barrels, and the number of operating oil rigs has gone from 172 in July 2020 to 519 today. America is exporting more energy than we are importing. 

In addition, only 8% of the Keystone XL pipeline was built by the time Biden canceled its permit when he took office, meaning the pipeline required at least three more years of construction before it could open.

Biden’s Build Back Better legislation — blocked in the Senate by the opposition of all Republicans and two Democrats — takes a smarter path. It would fund billions of dollars in incentives to sharply increase production and sales of electric vehicles, construction of electric vehicle charging stations, and expanded public transit to enable more people to travel without driving their cars. All these actions would have the added benefit of creating American jobs.

One of the incentives in Build Back Better, which was passed by the House, would be a tax credit of up to $12,500 to people who buy an electric vehicle made in the U.S. with union labor (and $7,500 for other electric vehicles). In addition, the bipartisan infrastructure bill Biden signed into law last year included $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations.

Electric vehicles are displayed before a news conference with White House Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

While there is no prospect of all the measures in the Build Back Better bill passing in the current Congress, Biden and congressional Democrats are working to win passage of a smaller version of the bill, or for separate bills covering portions of Build Back Better. 

Lawmakers of both parties should unite to enact these electric vehicle incentives if they are serious about cutting our dependence on oil from Russia and elsewhere. While no legislation can replace gasoline and diesel vehicles overnight, our long-term interest in fighting destructive climate change and in ending our dependence on oil demands a switch to electric vehicles as soon as practically possible.

Russia may remain a threat to not just Ukraine but to other nations around the world for years to come. Kicking our oil addiction, and the addictions of other nations as well by replacing gasoline and diesel vehicles with electric cars and trucks, will deprive Russia of the cash it needs to fund future aggression, as well as protect our environment.

The invasion of Ukraine should not be a political issue dividing Democrats and Republicans. On this issue, where innocent Ukrainian civilians are being senselessly killed every day, we should stand united.

Donna Brazile Headshot
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Donna Brazile is an ABC News Contributor, veteran political strategist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. She managed the Gore campaign in 2000 and has lectured at more than 225 colleges and universities on race, diversity, women, leadership and restoring civility in politics. Brazile is the author of several books, including the New York Times’ bestseller “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” @DonnaBrazile

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