President Joe Biden is “disappointed” that the Saudi-led OPEC+ oil cartel agreed to cut 2 million barrels per day, the White House said Wednesday, as the threat of higher gas prices looms weeks ahead of critical midterm elections.
The decision by major oil producer groups defied heavy lobbying by US administration officials and prompted Biden to say he was concerned about the move. Since Biden visited Saudi Arabia for a conference in July, he has pushed back on the small increase in production announced by OPEC+.
However, the White House insisted that the visit was not a “waste of time”, although it strongly criticized the decision to reduce production.
“The president is disappointed by OPEC+’s decision to cut production quotas as the global economy grapples with the continuing negative impact of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” said two of Biden’s top aides, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and director of the National Economic Council. Brian Deese, in a statement.
“At a time when maintaining global energy supplies is of utmost importance, this decision will have the most negative impact on low- and middle-income countries that are suffering from high energy prices,” the two consultants wrote.
The administration will “consult Congress on additional tools and authorities to reduce OPEC’s control over energy prices,” the statement said, without specifying the actions being considered to reduce the impact of the oil cartel.
Cutting oil production ahead of November’s midterm elections poses a potential political problem for the president, who has touted lower gas prices this summer as he works to promote his agenda. The average price of gas nationally has been rising again in recent days, according to AAA.
As he left the White House on Wednesday, Biden said he was concerned about the prospect of significantly cutting production.
“I have to see what the detail is. I’m concerned, it’s not necessary,” he said in response to a question about the OPEC+ decision as he left the White House for Florida, where he was aiming to reverse the damage from the storm.
The international cartel of oil producers held a critical meeting on Wednesday, where energy ministers decided to cut output by 2 million barrels per day, the biggest cut since the pandemic began.
In recent days, Biden’s top energy, economic and foreign policy officials have lobbied foreign counterparts in Middle Eastern allies, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to vote against cutting oil production.
When he visited Saudi Arabia in July, Biden made it clear that he was not just asking the oil-rich kingdom to increase oil production. After slamming the regime’s human rights record as a candidate, Biden took a swipe at powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who US intelligence says masterminded the killing of Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi.
Shortly after Fox News announced the decision, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s communications coordinator, said the oil cartel was “reducing a little bit” after a small increase following Biden’s visit.
“OPEC+ has been saying and saying they’re producing 3.5 million barrels more than they’re actually producing. So in a way this announced cut brings them back more in line with actual production,” Kirby said, noting that there hasn’t been a dramatic change in oil prices yet.
“We have to see how it plays out in the long run,” he said.
Kirby said Biden’s visit to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for a regional conference “wasn’t about oil.”
“It was about the strategic goals and larger national interests of the entire region to try to promote an integrated cooperative region,” he said.