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Biden considers banning Russian oil but gas prices are already creeping up

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Gas prices are up again. AAA says the average price yesterday was $3.84 a gallon. That may be on President Biden's mind as he considers whether to ban U.S. imports of Russian oil as one more sanction against that country. But could that fuel inflation? NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us. Tam, thanks for being with us.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

SIMON: Some of us were surprised to learn that the U.S. imports any Russian oil. How big a deal would it be to stop it?

KEITH: Well, it's less than 10% of U.S. imports, so probably not a big deal. But congressional Democrats and Republicans alike say it's important to stop it because oil is a source of revenue for Russia. And we now know the White House isn't ruling this out. Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Cecilia Rouse, was asked about barring Russian oil imports to the U.S. at the White House press briefing yesterday.

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CECILIA ROUSE: We don't import a lot of Russian oil, but we are looking at options that we can take right now if we were to cut the U.S. consumption of Russian energy. But what's really most important is we - that we maintain a steady supply of global energy.

KEITH: But in that same briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had a different emphasis. She said that everyone supports crippling economic sanctions against Russia.

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JEN PSAKI: And they have had an enormous impact. But what we are also mindful of is not taking steps that have - would have the impact of raising energy prices, raising oil prices, raising gas prices for the American public.

KEITH: So they are looking at options, but they are also looking at the price of gas. The average price of regular jumped 11 cents in a single day this week.

SIMON: President met yesterday in the Oval Office with the president of Finland. What do we know about what went on?

KEITH: President Biden has continued to spend a lot of time talking to leaders of allied nations and partners about the crisis in Ukraine. And Finland is an interesting case because it shares a land border with Russia but has historically been nonaligned. The White House said that the two leaders agreed to, quote, "start a process to strengthen U.S.-Finnish security cooperation." What this means is that Finland is looking to get closer to the U.S. and NATO, and it's likely to be noticed by Moscow.

I also want to note that next week, Vice President Harris will visit two other neighbors of Russia that are nervous about what's going on. She plans to travel to Poland and Romania, two NATO allies where the U.S. has stationed extra troops right now.

SIMON: We heard President Biden saying quite directly that he doesn't want sanctions against Russia to wind up hurting American consumers. What do we know so far about how the American people seem to feel about his decisions on Ukraine?

KEITH: It's early days still, but there are signs that people approve. A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows that President Biden's approval rating is up, and there was strong support for his handling of Ukraine specifically. That poll was taken after his State of the Union address, where he really outlined his thinking on the situation in Ukraine and what he's been doing.

But, of course, it is just one data point. It's important not to take any single poll in isolation, even our own poll. What we do know is that voters care most about the economy. They are worried about inflation. And there was some great economic news yesterday, a new jobs report showing nearly 700,000 jobs were created in February - just a real blockbuster. But that kind of good news has been overshadowed by the situation in Ukraine.

SIMON: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith - Tam, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.