Biden urged Americans to blame rising prices on Putin. Many do, for now.

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Biden urged Americans to blame rising prices on Putin. Many do, for now.

WASHINGTON – The price of petrol has increased every day since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Record-high inflation is causing sticker shock in the United States. And now, President Biden is pinning the blame on Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

“The imposition of severe sanctions in response to Putin’s unprovoked war will cost him at home,” Mr Biden said in a statement on Thursday.

The president is betting that Americans are prepared to endure the financial pain that comes from waging an economic war with Russia. But Thursday’s news that inflation has hit a 40-year high is another clear reminder of how much he’s asking voters to sacrifice in an election year.

With the midterm election eight months away, the immediate political question for Mr Biden is whether the American people are ready to blame the Russians, not them, for the rising costs. Experts have said that prices have risen over the past year as strong demand, mainly due to government relief spending, has outpaced the pandemic-disrupted supply. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only begun to deepen the problem.

Democratic strategist Josh Schwerin said of imposing financial penalties on Russia, “It’s certainly a challenge, but it’s not one that we really have a choice about making.” “There is widespread support for Putin to stand up and enforce these sanctions, including those that would increase the cost of gas.”

Mr Biden’s approval rating has been dragged down for months due to inflation and despair about the pandemic among many Americans. But recent polls of voter attitudes show that many Democrats and Republicans support the administration’s sanctions on Russia, even if the penalties are bad for their pocketbooks.

In an Economist/YouGov poll released this week, 66 percent of Americans said they approved sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for its aggression. In a Wall Street Journal poll, 79 percent of voters supported a ban on Russian oil, even if it meant it would result in rising energy prices.

Those findings are good news for Biden, who has been the subject of Republican attacks for failing to keep inflation under control. Republicans have blamed him for rising gas prices, even as they backed his decision to impose sanctions on Russian oil.

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Officials familiar with his decision said Mr Biden had struggled for days to cut Russian oil amid fears of an already sharp rise in the price of gasoline.

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel on Thursday accused the Biden administration of refusing to take responsibility for rising costs.

“Prices are skyrocketing under the reckless policies of Biden and the Democrats,” Ms McDaniel said in a statement. “Attempting to blame Biden is an insult to every American and small-business owner struggling to afford the cost of everyday goods.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday that there was no question of “inflation could be higher for the next few months” without a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and that the administration’s focus would be the long-term effects of rising costs. to reduce

Democratic strategists have pointed out that much of the criticism of Biden on the part of Republicans is that he has done nothing more to confront Russia. The president has repeatedly said he is not ready to send US troops to Ukraine, and the United States this week refused to take fighter jets from Poland and deploy them to a US airport for end use in Ukraine. done.

Whatever decision Mr Biden is making, his party’s strategists argue, lies in strategic decision-making, not political calculation.

David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said, “The position he is in has a kind of political freedom.” “Almost every indicator is working against them relative to these mid-term elections, and many of them are beyond one’s control. The best service he can do for himself, for the Democrats, is to be as fearless and as strong and honest as he can be about the situation we are in.”

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Biden administration officials have tried to emphasize economic gains, including a streak of strong job growth that persisted even during the latest wave of coronavirus cases. Just last week, Mr Biden used his State of the Union address to try to refocus the nation on how far the economy has come since the recession caused by the pandemic, and what he said about inflation. Called fighting his “top priority”.

The Labor Department reported last week that US employers had added 678,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate had fallen to 3.8 percent, its lowest level since the start of the pandemic. Still, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen acknowledged Thursday that despite economic progress in the United States, inflation remains a challenge.

“I don’t want to say that inflation is not a problem,” Ms Yellen said at an event organized by The Washington Post. “Inflation is a problem.”

Ms Yellen said Russia’s war in Ukraine was driving up oil prices and fueling a rapid rise in gasoline prices in the United States. She said the Biden administration was working to protect American consumers from the effects of the sanctions, but did not elaborate on any new measures to lower gas prices.

Ms Yellen pointed to the Biden administration’s policies to reduce the cost of child care and elderly care as a long-term treatment for rising prices. He said the Federal Reserve would be responsible for tackling inflation in the near future.

“Inflation is first and foremost the job of the Federal Reserve,” said Ms Yellen. “We have to see the Federal Reserve take steps to reduce inflation and I believe the Fed will take the necessary action.”

Alan Rappeport And Jenna Smialek Contributed to reporting.

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