Senate Passes Bipartisan Measure To Bar US From Selling Oil Reserves to China

Vote comes one year after Free Beacon report showed Biden sold one million reserve barrels to Chinese

Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) and John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) / Getty Images
July 20, 2023

The Senate on Thursday passed with bipartisan support a measure that bars the United States from selling its oil reserves to China, a move that comes one year after a Washington Free Beacon report showed the Biden administration sold nearly one million reserve barrels to a Chinese oil giant.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) introduced the policy as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The measure received wide bipartisan backing—just 14 Democrats voted no, compared with 37 who joined their Republican colleagues in support of the ban. The amendment as a result passed 85-14, easily clearing the Senate's 60-vote threshold.

The amendment's passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate comes as a rebuke to President Joe Biden, whose administration vehemently defended its sale of 950,000 Strategic Petroleum Reserve barrels to the trading arm of the China Petrochemical Corporation. White House spokesman Ian Sams, for example, accused the sale's Republican critics of "lying" and "pushing false conspiracies about the president," an argument that did not stop a large majority of Senate Democrats from supporting a ban.

The amendment's inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act—which authorizes funding for the Department of Defense—will likely create a political headache for Biden. The president has already voiced displeasure with tough-on-China provisions included in the act. One would force the Pentagon to disclose information on foreign nationals who work on military research, while another would order the secretary of defense to determine whether the Chinese government has aided in the transportation of fentanyl precursors to Mexican drug cartels.

Still, a Biden veto of the act would create immense controversy. The defense policy legislation has become law each year for the last 62 years.

The House in January passed identical legislation to bar China from purchasing U.S. reserve oil. That bill also received bipartisan support, with 113 of the 210 Democrats who voted supporting it. Cruz hammered Biden for selling reserve barrels to China, saying in a statement last week that he is "proud to lead the bipartisan effort to stop this from happening in the future."

"The original intent of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was to ensure that America had sufficient oil reserves in the event of an emergency," Cruz said. "We are unnecessarily and dangerously undermining our national security in any instance that we sell any part of this stockpile to the Chinese Communist Party or any company under its control."

While Manchin joined Cruz to introduce the amendment, the Democrat opposed a similar measure in the past. Manchin in 2022 shot down a Cruz amendment to the so-called Inflation Reduction Act that would have limited U.S. oil reserves from going to "a bidder that intends to export the crude oil to the People's Republic of China."