Vulnerable Senate Democrats broke with the White House by voting to restore Trump-era sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a sign that President Biden’s decision to pave the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pet project could be a political liability for his party in November.
Senate Democrats blocked last Thursday the bill introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, that would restore immediate sanctions on entities associated with the natural-gas pipeline, even though six Democrats crossed party lines, including four facing tough midterm-election fights.
Joining Republicans in backing the Cruz bill were Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, all of whom are defending their seats in November.
Also lining up with Republicans were Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Jacky Rosen of Nevada, who represent battleground states. Both Democrats are up for reelection in 2024.
Larry Behrens, Western states director of the pro-energy group Power the Future, said Friday the Democratic defections show that the administration’s decision in May to waive U.S. sanctions on the nearly completed pipeline has backfired politically.
“It’s clear the Biden administration put a lot of pressure on Senate Democrats to vote in favor of Putin’s pipeline, so it’s telling those who will soon have to face voters were the most likely to ignore the White House,” said Mr. Behrens.
Republicans and energy groups have blasted the administration’s Nord Stream 2 waiver, contrasting it with Mr. Biden’s decision on his first day in office to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have moved Canadian crude oil from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries.
“Standing up to our adversaries, protecting our friends and promoting American energy should be the easiest vote in Washington,” said Mr. Behrens. “Yet, it seems the Biden administration decided to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their Keystone pipeline cancellation by fighting hard for a pipeline for Russia and getting their enablers in the Senate to go along.”
The Democratic aisle crossing also failed to stave off criticism from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which ripped the Democrats in a post featuring photos of Ms. Cortez Masto, Mr. Kelly, Mr. Warnock, Ms. Hassan and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who’s also up for reelection in November.
“The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is an unprecedented geopolitical problem and once again, Vladimir Putin is poised to emerge victorious thanks to the weakness of Senate Democrats and the Biden administration,” said NRSC spokesperson T.W. Arrighi.
Ms. Hassan said Friday that she supports “taking strong action — including significant sanctions.”
“We need to make it clear to the Kremlin that we are serious about countering Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and that we will aid our partners in the region,” she said in a statement. “The bill that we voted on this week was one way to do that, and I am open to working with both parties to prevent the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from coming online.”
Senate Democrats touted an alternative bill introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey to reimpose sanctions if Russia moves to invade Ukraine.
“This is not a question of whether to stop the pipeline — that is clear and agreed upon by Democrats and Republicans. The question is how,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat. “The legislation Democrats are proposing addresses the full scope of both the threat we face and the punitive response that is required to swiftly punish Putin should he continue to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
Germany has backed the 750-mile pipeline as vital to its industrial sector, while the Ukrainian government urged the Senate to pass the Cruz bill, calling the project “no less an existential threat to our security” than the Russian troops massing at the border.
Ms. Rosen said that she supported the Cruz bill “because we cannot allow the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to move forward.”
“Bringing this pipeline online strengthens Vladimir Putin’s hand and endangers Ukraine’s security, and with 100,000 Russian troops at Ukraine’s border, we must stand up to Russian aggression now,” she said. “Senator Menendez’s sanctions bill that I have co-sponsored should also come to the Senate floor for a vote so that Vladimir Putin knows there will be severe consequences for invading our ally Ukraine.”
Mr. Cruz, who secured a floor vote in exchange for lifting his holds on multiple State Department nominees, argued that imposing sanctions after a Russian invasion would be too late.
“And I would suggest, if Joe Biden were not president, if Donald Trump were sitting in the Oval Office today, every single Democrat in this chamber would vote for these sanctions. All of them,” he said. “As they did twice when Donald Trump was sitting in the Oval Office.”
Mr. Cruz said that “the other thing that has changed, by the way, are the Russian troops on the border of Ukraine. Which is exactly what the Ukrainians and the Poles told us would happen when Biden waived these sanctions.”
The vote against the bill was 55-44. The only Republican to vote against the Cruz bill was Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has long criticized sanctions as ineffective and counterproductive.
• Joseph Clark contributed to this story.