Why Cori Bush and Ilhan Omar Joined Republicans in Voting Against Russia Oil Ban

Two Democratic members of the House of Representatives voted against legislation to ban the import of oil, gas and coal from Russia on Wednesday night.

Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota's 5th congressional district and Representative Cori Bush of Missouri's 1st district joined 15 Republicans in opposing the Suspending Energy Imports from Russia Act. The bill was introduced in response to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The bill passed by a vote of 414 to 17, but it isn't yet clear if the Senate will now take up the legislation, which is separate from President Joe Biden's ban on Russian energy imports announced on Tuesday.

Omar said on Tuesday that she would vote against the bill, saying that a ban wouldn't end well for the people of Russia or for those living in Europe. The European Union (EU) is heavily dependent on Russian gas and oil.

"That's not only going to have a devastating impact on the people of Russia, but on Europe as well," Omar said in an interview with The Hill TV. "When we're having these conversations, they can't be about just the immediate, gratifying response that we want to come up with."

Long-Term Implications of Sanctions

Omar said that the bill "has other undesirable sanctions that I will not be supporting."

"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," the Democrat said. "I think ultimately, this is not going to end well, for the the actual people of Russia, and it's not going to end well, for the people of Europe as well."

Omar also made it clear that she supports "sanctions on Putin and his allies."

"But do I think that the broad-based sanctions that we are imposing on Russia is going to have a devastating impact on Putin? No," she said. "I think they're going to have a devastating impact on the people."

The final bill contained provisions to reauthorize the Magnitsky Act, which would allow the strengthening of sanctions on Russia over human rights violations, and it also called for a reassessment of Russia's role in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In a statement issued to Newsweek on Thursday, Omar said that Biden had the authority to ban Russian oil imports, but criticized the contents of the bill.

Omar said "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."

She pointed to the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment that imposed sanctions on the then Soviet Union, but which was not repealed until 2012, long after the Soviet Union had been formally dissolved.

"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," Omar added. "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 production. We must move to a green economy for this and many reasons."

Representative Bush hadn't publicly offered an explanation for her vote as of early Thursday morning. She is a member of the progressive "Squad" along with Omar but other members of that group, such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, voted in favor.

In a statement issued to Newsweek on Thursday afternoon, Bush said: "I support sanctions that target the murderous Putin regime, Russian oligarchs, and corporate fossil fuel executives profiting off human suffering."

"I opposed the House bill to ban oil imports from Russia because it fails to address the underlying problem of imposing sanctions that are not accompanied with a clear diplomatic process for de-escalation, incentives for a ceasefire, and a condition of withdrawal of Russian military forces in Ukraine," she said.

"I also have deep concerns that the push for a statutory ban is being used to justify even more dangerous drilling at home and increased imports from other authoritarian governments like Saudi Arabia," Bush said.

"This approach categorically makes our communities less safe, does nothing to jumpstart our transition to renewable energy, and further burdens regular, everyday people already financially strained by the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis," she said.

Bush added that the U.S. approach to Ukraine "must be rooted in ending human suffering, ensuring accountability, and creating pathways to peace and justice for all."

The legislation passed on Wednesday night is separate to the ban on Russian energy imports announced by Biden on Tuesday. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi proceeded with a vote on the bill despite Biden's action, but the Senate may not take up the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said the leadership will consult with the administration on the matter.

Update 03/10/22 10.00a.m. E.T.: This article was updated to include a statement from Representative Ilhan Omar.

Update 04/10/22, 8:16 a.m. E.T.: This article was updated to include a statement from Representative Cori Bush.

Composite Image Shows Bush and Omar
A composite image shows Representatives Cori Bush and Ilhan Omar. Bush and Omar were the only Democrats to vote against a ban on Russian energy imports on Wednesday night, joining 15 Republicans. Getty Images