GOP lawmakers back ban on Russian oil imports but fought embargo on Russian ammo

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and 29 House Republicans sided with the NRA last year against punishing Vladimir Putin's regime over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.

More than two dozen GOP members of Congress opposed a Biden administration ban on imports of Russian ammunition last year, claiming the sanctions wouldn't hurt the Russian government and instead amounted to "an attempt at gun control."

The 30 congressional Republicans wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in September 2021, opposing their respective departments' sanctions. The Biden administration said at the time that the sanctions were intended to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny — the now-imprisoned Russian opposition leader who opposes Putin and his regime.

But the lawmakers — which included Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and right-wing Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) — accused the Biden administration of carrying out a backdoor attempt at gun control, saying that the ban on Russian ammunition punished gun owners rather than the Russian government.

"This ban will certainly be more punitive to American citizens than to Russia," they wrote in the letter. "Already, there is an ammunition shortage in our country that is driving up prices for consumers. According to MKS Supply, one of the largest importers of Russian ammunition, the United States imports as much as 30-40% of its ammunition from Russia, and the ban would exacerbate this shortage further."

It was the same position as the National Rifle Association, which also opposed the ammunition ban.

"While that may be a viable reason for the United States government to sanction the Russian Federation, the ammunition import restriction seems more aimed at punishing American gun owners and businesses than as a foreign policy tool to influence the Russian Federation," the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action wrote weeks before the lawmakers' letter.

Less than a year later, the United States has imposed even stronger sanctions on Russia as punishment for Putin's violent invasion of Ukraine — which has to date killed at least 549 civilians, including children, according to the United Nations.

In fact, 21 of the 30 signatories of the letter voted this week to ban imports of Russian oil as punishment for Russia's war on Ukraine. Biggs, Boebert, Greene, as well as Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Bill Posey (R-FL), and Chip Roy (R-TX) — all of whom signed the letter opposing the ban on Russian ammunition — voted against the embargo. Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), who also signed the letter, did not vote.

Cruz and his Senate colleagues have not yet voted on the bill in the Senate, but he has said he supports the ban.

In the wake of the ban on Russian oil imports, the American Independent Foundation reached out to all 30 GOP lawmakers about whether they still believe Americans should be able to import Russian ammunition.

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) responded, saying he still believes ammunition shouldn't be part of sanctions on Russia.

"I certainly support imposing crippling sanctions on Russia as they unjustly wage war on Ukraine, but I still object to banning Russian ammunition imports," he wrote. "We all heard President Zelensky loudly proclaim that he needs ammunition, not a ride. So in addition to our supply, we should provide the brave Ukrainians with Russian ammunition as well — which would divert some of Russia's ammunition manufacturing capability away from its military."

A spokesperson for Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) told the American Independent Foundation that he "stands by his position in the September 3, 2021, letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen to reverse the Russian ammo ban. With less than 1 percent of Russia's total exports to the U.S. being firearms and ammunition, this ban does not hurt the Russian economy, rather it directly harms American gun owners."

Updated to include a response from the office of Rep. Randy Weber.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.