Biden braces Americans for higher energy prices if Russia invades Ukraine

Gas prices could soar as much as 50 cents a gallon, some experts predict.

February 16, 2022, 2:39 PM

With fears of a Russian attack on Ukraine remaining a "distinct possibility," President Joe Biden is sending a stark warning to Americans about what he says could be very real economic consequences at home -- especially at the gas pump.

"I will not pretend this will be painless," Biden said Tuesday while preparing Americans to be prepared for higher energy prices in the U.S. if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to attack Ukraine and the Biden administration in turn puts its "powerful" sanctions in place.

The average price of a gallon of gas reached $3.51 on Wednesday, according to AAA, up roughly a dollar from a year ago and the highest level since October 2014. And in just the last month, prices in more than a dozen states have jumped 25 cents.

Russia is the second largest oil producer in the world, and if it invades and U.S. sanctions then keep its oil from the world market or make it more expensive, and ABC News Chief Business Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis reports some analysts predict prices at the pump in the U.S. could jump as much as 50 cents.

Polls show Biden already is being blamed for higher gas prices as part of the worst inflation in nearly 40 years -- more than 7% last year -- and it's a big political problem for him and Democrats ahead of November's midterm elections.

ABC News' Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega pressed the White House on what Americans should be ready for.

"Worst case scenario, what should they expect if this happens," Vega asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday.

"If Russia decides to invade, there could be consequences here at home, and that could have an impact on energy prices, which could have an impact on prices at the gas pump," Psaki said.

"He also wanted to be very clear and direct with the American people about what the impact could be and the fact that in his view, defending democracy and liberty is never without costs, but we need to convey to the American people exactly what that could look like."

Psaki said "all options are on the table" to help bring down the price of gasoline and President Biden has been trying to get ahead of a major impact by shoring up supplies with allies and energy producers.

"We are taking active steps to alleviate the pressure on our own energy markets and offset rising prices," said Biden.

In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Feb. 16, 2022, Russian army tanks are loaded onto railway platforms to move back to their permanent base after drills in Russia.
Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

Several Democratic senators have introduced legislation to temporarily suspend the 18.5 cents per gallon federal gas tax for the remainder of the year to help bring the price at the pump down. During a news conference on inflation Wednesday, Republican senators called the proposal a "gimmick" and criticized the Biden administration's energy policies that they say have punished American producers and increased foreign reliance on Russian energy.

"One of the best ways we can thwart Putin's use of energy as a weapon against our NATO allies is actually produce more energy that we can supply to them. Everybody agrees with that, except for a few far-left individuals in the White House who somehow came in and won the debate about 'let's unilaterally disarm American energy,'" Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said.

The White House has not taken a position on the proposal.

In January, senior administration officials said they had been working with countries in North Africa, Asia, Europe and Asia to "ensure the continuity of supply" and lessen the price shock that comes with a shortage.

President Biden discussed global energy supplies with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud on Feb. 9 and when he hosted Qatar's Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani at the White House on Jan. 31.

Despite the outreach and calls to pump more oil, Saudi Arabia has decided to abide by a five-year-old deal between OPEC+ countries and will not increase its production to full capacity, according to The Wall Street Journal.

ABC News' Allison Pecorin contributed to this story