- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2022

Senators sparred early Thursday ahead of a vote on a bill that would impose immediate sanctions on Russia‘s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, with Senate Democrats in a bind over backing the tough-on-Kremlin legislation that would embarrass President Biden.

The bill by Sen. Ted Cruz would restore Trump-era sanctions Mr. Biden withdrew from the nearly operational undersea pipeline into Germany.

“Today, each of us will be faced with a momentous question,” said Mr. Cruz, a Texas Republican who forced a vote on the bill in exchange for releasing a hold on scores of Mr. Biden’s nominees for ambassadorships. “Can we put petty differences aside and can we come together to defend our friend and our ally Ukraine against imminent Russian aggression?”

Several Democrats, though, began poking holes in Mr. Cruz‘s bill early Thursday.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat and an opponent of the Biden administration‘s decision to waive the sanctions, said she shared the Republicans’ concern about Russia‘s aggression towards Ukraine “and the role that Nord Stream 2 plays in that critical issue.”

But she said imposing sanctions would weaken the U.S.’s leverage amid the high-stakes negotiations.

“What Senator Cruz‘s bill would do is not stop Nord Stream 2, it would undermine the current diplomatic situation that is absolutely critical if we are going to respond to the Russian threat,” Mrs. Shaheen said on the Senate floor. “Supporting his bill would be a vote to compromise transatlantic unity. It is a vote that breaks the message of bipartisan support in the face of Russian aggression.”

Other Democrats piled on. Some took shots at Mr. Cruz directly.

“Senator Cruz had an opportunity to come up with serious legislation dealing with Nord Stream 2, but instead he wrote a bill that would hogtie the Senate with procedural votes and obstruct progress on all the other issues that matter to American families,” Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, wrote on Twitter. “This is the latest example in a pattern in which Senator Cruz tramples on the important American principle of leaving politics out of U.S. national security matters.”

The debate played out against a backdrop of Mr. Biden’s attempts to cool tensions with the Kremlin amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troop buildup along his country’s border with Ukraine.

Russia has amassed about 100,000 troops on the border, stoking fears of an invasion similar to its 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. The U.S. and its European allies have engaged in talks with Kremlin officials this week over the standoff.

Republicans say the administration has taken a weak stance on Russia. They contend that the U.S. needs to act immediately before the Kremlin gains more leverage.

“The Senate, in just a few hours, will vote on a bill that represents the best way to deter Putin from invading Ukraine by sanctioning the company that is racing to finish and make operational the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which Putin desperately wants to be completed so that he can use it as a cudgel against our European allies,” Mr. Cruz said.

Last year, lawmakers from both parties decried the administration‘s decision to waive Trump-era sanctions on Nord Stream 2, the Russian undersea pipeline to Germany. The lawmakers argue that the natural gas pipeline will allow Russia to weaponize its control over the European energy market.

The vote on Mr. Cruz‘s bill puts Democrats, who aim to remain tough on Russia without crossing the administration, in a tough spot.

The administration has pushed back on the measure and has lobbied Democrats in the Senate to vote against it, saying that imposing the sanctions now would remove significant U.S. leverage amid the ongoing negotiations.

On Wednesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, introduced a measure that would impose sanctions on Russia in the event of an invasion — offering an alternative for Democrats but stopping well short of immediate actions that Republicans say are a must.

Republicans remain undeterred and are pressing the Biden administration to take a firm stance on Russia.

“The Senate must show we are focused on the real-life threats to democracy, to security, and our friends,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “Deterring Russian aggression and preparing for the very real threat of a major war on the European continent will take far more than these sanctions. It will take urgency and seriousness from the Administration.”

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide