Moneybox

Democrats Demanded That Trump Make Oil Prices Fall. And He Kinda Did.

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 09:  A gas pump nozzle is seen at a gas station as reports indicate that the price of gas continues to rise on April 9, 2018 in Miami, Florida. AAA forecasts the national gas price average will be as much as $2.70/gallon this spring and summer.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Not a picture of Donald Trump, for once.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Attacking the president for rising gas prices during summer road trip season is a time-honored American political tradition, the news cycle equivalent of drinking an overpriced Budweiser at the ballpark. And so last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stood outside of a Capitol Hill Exxon station—a longtime prop for such events—and went through the motions of blaming Donald Trump for the pain Americans had been feeling at the pump.

“It’s time for this president to stand up to OPEC,” Schumer said. “He’s palling around with the Saudis and the UAE and all these other oil-rich countries. Why doesn’t he ask them to lower their prices?”

This was a somewhat odd line of criticism, since Trump had, in fact, already done more or less what Schumer was demanding. Crude prices rose over the last year largely thanks to a historic deal to limit production between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, led by Saudi Arabia, and Russia. Last month, the president tweeted out a cranky warning to OPEC, suggesting that he wouldn’t tolerate prices going up any further.

Worse yet for Schumer, Trump’s friends in the Middle East appear to have listened, or are acting like it anyway. Oil prices took a tumble last week after energy ministers from OPEC and Russia suggested they would loosen up the supply restrictions in order to keep a lid on prices. And as the Washington Post reported, OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo told a panel in St. Petersberg “that talks about easing production cuts were prompted” by Trump’s tweet. “We pride ourselves as friends of the United States,” he said.

It’s possible, of course, that OPEC is simply trying to flatter Trump. Some of its members, particularly Saudi Arabia, have invested a lot of energy in courting the president (never forget the orb), and probably feel they have an interest in making him look good, even if their decisions are strictly economic. It’s also possible that Trump’s tweet really did factor in OPEC’s decision making, since, as I wrote at the time of Trump’s tweet, the Saudis rely on American military and diplomatic support. Either way, they’re willing to give him credit.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Trump deserves applause for lowering gas prices, since the president’s decision to 86 the Iran deal is one of the factors that drove oil higher in the first place. Nonetheless, Trump is in the rare position where he can plausibly take credit for personally keeping fuel prices in check.

This is not how attacking presidents for gas prices is supposed to go, obviously. The entire point of the exercise is that, while Americans tend to blame whoever is in the White House for the cost of their weekly commute, there’s typically little the White House can do to influence the oil market. But Trump is in a slightly different position, at least for PR purposes, which makes Schumer’s performance seem even more performative, and ill-conceived, than usual.

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