By Betsy Klein, CNN
President Joe Biden on Thursday suggested the new consumer price index report showing soaring inflation reflected the pinch Americans are feeling due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and other factors.
Following the report that showed consumer prices have spiked over 7.9% over the last 12 months, Biden cast blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine for the rising prices. He added that the costs the US has imposed on Russia in response, including sanctions and a ban on US imports of Russian energy, are “far more devastating” than the costs Americans are facing at home.
“Today’s inflation report is a reminder that Americans’ budgets are being stretched by price increases and families are starting to feel the impacts of Putin’s price hike. A large contributor to inflation this month was an increase in gas and energy prices as markets reacted to Putin’s aggressive actions,” Biden said in a statement.
He added, “As I have said from the start, there will be costs at home as we impose crippling sanctions in response to Putin’s unprovoked war, but Americans can know this: The costs we are imposing on Putin and his cronies are far more devastating than the costs we are facing.”
He pointed to efforts to bring prices down, including a release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and other actions the administration is taking to strengthen supply chains and promote competition.
Biden also noted that unemployment is low and “our jobs recovery remains strong.”
The Consumer Price Index stood at 7.9% over the 12-month period that ended in February, without seasonal adjustments, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is the highest level for the key inflation measure since January 1982.
While Biden put the blame on the war in Ukraine for February’s inflation numbers, rising prices have been a primary political issue for the President and his administration for months. The Covid-19 pandemic and a host of other issues have driven prices on everyday goods higher and higher over the last several months despite Biden’s attempts to lessen the impact on Americans’ wallets.
The White House had been bracing for a high inflation report, and experts predict next month’s consumer price index, which will include data from the month of March, will reflect continued rising prices.
Senate Democrats called on the Biden administration to take more assertive action following the report.
Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, who is up for reelection in November, called for passage of his bill to suspend the gas tax.
Asked if the administration has done enough, Kelly told CNN: “I mean right now it’s clear that prices are too high, especially the price of gasoline. In Arizona it’s over … getting up over $4 a gallon. That’s where it is nationally, I think it was over $4.30 today, families can’t afford that. So we have to come up with some good options.”
And Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, told CNN that more needed to be done.
“No,” Manchin said when asked if he were satisfied with the White House’s handling of the inflation. “I think there’s a lot more we can do. I really do. We have to get back to the leasing process so people have stability. They understand that we’re going to be in this game for a while. We can walk and chew gum.”
Earlier this week, Biden announced his administration was banning Russian oil, natural gas and coal imports to the US in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a step he warned could lead to a spike in gas prices at home.
Biden said during a trip to Texas later that day that the price of gas is “going to go up.”
“Can’t do much right now. Russia’s responsible,” Biden said.
A senior administration official blamed “Putin’s choices” for gas prices in the US that are expected to continue to rise.
“What we’re seeing now is a result of fears of Putin’s ongoing aggression escalating and the consequences of his actions. But we think this is a time for American resolve,” the official said.
The official declined to predict when gas prices would eventually come down.
“I can’t give you a prediction because much of what we’re seeing in energy markets is the result of Putin, his aggression and his brutal war. And I can’t get into his mind and give you a prediction on what he’ll do next, but we’re ready for anything,” the official said.
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CNN’s Manu Raju and Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.