Dems torpedo Cruz’s bid to sanction Russian pipeline

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) secured the December vote after months of delaying confirmation of candidates for President Joe Biden’s ambassadors. It was a tactic that drew sharp criticism from Democrats, who complained about the Texas Republican’s deadlock on foreign policy candidates stemming from his push to sanction the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the energy project from Russia to Germany , which the US and bipartisan majorities reject .

Despite their previous support for sanctioning Nord Stream 2, most Democrats sided with the Biden administration by opposing Cruz’s legislation, arguing it was an ill-timed and politically-motivated measure that would Separating US from its European partners at a time when unity is crucial would deter Russia, which has amassed thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (DN.J.) argued that immediately sanctioning Nord Stream 2, as Cruz’s bill dictates, “might even be the excuse Putin is looking for” to get into to invade Ukraine.

Another senior Democrat said Cruz’s bill is a “gift” to Russia “because it is a signal of division at a moment when we need to stand together.”

“This law will not help Ukraine. It’s meant to harm the President of the United States,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a key White House ally in the effort. “Some of our Republican colleagues have consistently put their desire to politically harm President Biden ahead of their desire to protect the nation.”

But Republicans have been eager to fight the battle with Biden, who last year waived congressional sanctions on Nord Stream 2 and drew bipartisan reprimands. And GOP senators were bolstered by public statements by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy supporting the Cruz bill and the fact that nearly all senators had previously supported approving the pipeline.

Of the six Democrats who backed Cruz’s bill, four face difficult reelection battles in November: Georgia’s Sens. Raphael Warnock, New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan, Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto and Arizona’s Mark Kelly. Democratic Sens. Jacky Rosen of Nevada and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin also supported the legislation.

“I would suggest that if Joe Biden wasn’t president, if Donald Trump was in the Oval Office today, every single Democrat in this chamber would vote for these sanctions,” Cruz said. If Russia invades Ukraine, “it will be because the United States Senate has heard the pleas of our Ukrainian allies and we have turned a deaf ear to them.”

Republicans also disputed the Democrats’ argument that immediate sanctioning of the near-completed pipeline would drive a wedge between the US and European partners.

“The pipeline itself is the wedge. That’s the whole point,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. He added that Democrats are “more concerned about standing by Berlin than by Kiev” – a reference to Germany’s long-standing support for the pipeline that will bring cheap energy to the country.

But the new German government has since softened that position, spurred on by Russia’s threats to invade Ukraine. The pipeline is completed but not yet operational pending final certification; The Biden administration persuaded Germany to initiate the pause, allowing the US and its allies to use the pipeline as leverage to get Russian President Vladimir Putin to back down.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.), who is considered a leading figure for Democrats because of her years of work on the issue, said she opposes Cruz’s bill because the US stance on sanctions “these changes” in Germany position should reflect.

“It’s a bargaining chip the West can use when Vladimir Putin thinks about what he’s going to do with Ukraine,” Shaheen said.

Earlier this week, Democratic leaders unveiled a Russia sanctions bill intended to be an alternative to Cruz’s. The bill, led by Menendez and backed by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and more than three dozen Democrats, provides for a stringent set of conditional sanctions, including on Nord Stream 2, that would be imposed if Russia invaded Ukraine.

Menendez has called the penalties outlined in the bill “the mother of all sanctions,” arguing that it would preserve Biden’s ability to leverage the pipeline. However, Republicans have claimed that the legislation was only introduced to give Democrats political protections to resist immediate sanctions on Nord Stream 2, as required by the Cruz legislation.

The way forward – both in the diplomatic talks and in the legislative response – is unclear. Democrats are hoping Republicans will be willing to push Menendez’s bill after Cruz’s efforts failed. In fact, some Republicans have expressed support for it. And on Wednesday night, Democratic leaders began the process of putting the Menendez legislation on the Senate calendar.

It’s also not clear if Cruz will continue to block quick confirmation from Biden’s foreign policy nominees after his defeat. The tactic is one of the few minority-party senators can use to extort concessions from the majority party or the executive branch, and Cruz has not hesitated tout dozens of Biden’s picks for critical diplomatic posts.

In fact, Cruz’s role in the saga has been energizing Democrats for months. The conservative flamethrower, known for his uncompromising views and relentless desire to shake up the Senate, became the face of Republicans’ post-Trump attitude toward Russia. Democrats have also pointed to Cruz’s desire to run for president again in 2024, claiming he is hijacking the Senate for his own political ambitions.

“During the entire Trump administration, Senator Cruz has not voted for a single candidate because of Nord Stream 2,” Shaheen said in the Senate.

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