Rep. Ilhan Omar at a press conference.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) attends a bill ceremony on June 17, 2021. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Omar Explains Why She Voted Against Congressional Ban on Russian Oil Imports

Noting the president already enacted such a policy, she warned that "putting the specifics into statute with no sunset and no conditions for lifting the ban creates a dangerous scenario."

Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota issued a statement Thursday explaining why she was one of just two Democrats to vote against House legislation that would enshrine a sweeping ban on Russian energy imports--including oil, gas, and coal--into U.S. law.

"There is no meaningful principle at play in a decision to ban Russian oil but seek it from Saudi Arabia instead."

Omar noted that President Joe Biden has already taken executive action to ban U.S. imports of Russian fossil fuels, a step the Minnesota Democrat said he "clearly" has the authority to take.

"But putting the specifics into statute with no sunset and no conditions for lifting the ban creates a dangerous scenario, one in which we are taking today's policy question and making it tomorrow's political question," argued Omar, the whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "The last time Congress passed significant trade restrictions on Russia was the Jackson-Vanik Amendment of 1974."

That measure, Omar noted, "was not repealed until 2012, more than 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, well after its usefulness had expired."

"I have serious concerns that the Suspending Energy Imports From Russia Act will become yet another clear example where a policy stays on the books well past its utility because the political will to lift it has never materialized," Omar said. "One thing that is very clear is that our dependence on oil means a dependence on tyrants, and this has always been true. There is no meaningful principle at play in a decision to ban Russian oil but seek it from Saudi Arabia instead."

"I am also gravely concerned that this ban will mean ramping up domestic oil production," she added. "Yet another reason why we must move to a green economy that is proven to be the most reliable and cost-efficient."

The Suspending Energy Imports From Russia Act passed the House Wednesday night by an overwhelming vote of 414-17, with 15 Republicans and two Democrats--Omar and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.)--opposing the legislation.

An unnamed senior Democratic aide told the Wall Street Journal that "the vote was held to get lawmakers on the record," and it's not clear whether the Senate intends to send the legislation to Biden's desk.

If signed into law, the House-passed bill would ban imports of "all products of the Russian Federation classified under chapter 27 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States," which includes crude oil and natural gas as well as "electrical energy." But the legislation would give the president some leeway to waive the ban on certain products deemed "in the national interest."

In recent days, Omar has publicly spoken out against broad-based sanctions on Russia as a response to its deadly assault on Ukraine, warning that expansive economic punishments could do more harm to ordinary people than to political leaders and oligarchs.

In an interview on Hill TV earlier this week, Omar said that "whether it is politically or morally, we have to think about what this means a year from now, what this means two years, three years from now."

While stressing that she supports narrow sanctions targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies, Omar said she believes the more far-reaching sanctions currently being pursued by the U.S. and European governments are "going to have a devastating impact on the people."

"Do I think that the... broad-based sanctions that we are imposing on Russia are going to have a devastating impact on Putin? No," Omar said. "If we say we support, you know, Russians who are anti-war, who are taking to the streets, we ultimately do not want to have sanctions that are going to hurt their lives and their livelihoods."

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