White House opposes GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s proposal, backs another bill
Six Democrats broke with their party and the White House to vote with Republicans in favor of the bill. Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii) did not vote because he was released after testing positive for COVID-19 this week. Voting began in mid-afternoon and was open until evening, when Mr. Schumer cast his vote.
The cruise bill proposed imposing the ban within 15 days from the enactment of the law.
The Biden administration opposed the bill and lobbied Democratic senators against it, arguing it would remove US leverage to deter Russia and damage relations with Germany and other European allies. Russia has gathered thousands of troops around Ukraine, and talks between the US and Russia in Geneva this week were to no avail.
“The administration does not believe this bill is a genuine attempt to counter Russian aggression or defend Ukraine,” the White House said on Thursday. “Indeed, if passed, the law would only serve to undermine unity among our European allies at a critical moment when we need to present a unified front in response to Russian threats against Ukraine.”
The administration has supported an alternative bill introduced by Bob Menendez (D., NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That law will direct the administration to review the relaxation of sanctions against Nord Stream 2 and impose mandatory sanctions against Russian leaders, banks and businesses, but only if Moscow escalates hostilities against Ukraine. It is not known when that bill could receive a Senate vote.
“Approving Nord Stream now at this critical moment will have the opposite effect [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Mr. Menendez said on Thursday. “It could also be the excuse Putin is looking for.”
If the US no longer approves Nord Stream, it does not mean that the pipeline will go online, Mr Menendez said. “It doesn’t mean that Putin got his way,” he said. “That means there’s leverage.”
Although Mr Cruz’s bill failed, he hailed the vote as a political victory. “Despite fierce White House lobbying, a large bipartisan majority of senators once again voted for immediate sanctions on Putin’s pipeline,” Mr Cruz said in a statement.
Mr Cruz criticized the Biden administration for a disastrous decision last year to waive Nord Stream restrictions. The State Department waived fines on the pipeline’s parent company and chief executive in May as part of an effort to strengthen ties with its ally Germany.
He accused Democrats of counterattacking, and he criticized Mr Menendez’s sanctions bill, which was weak in a floor speech before the vote.
Mr Cruz said he doubted sanctions would be imposed after an invasion, especially once the pipeline was complete and the Germans relied on Russian natural gas from Nord Stream 2 to heat their homes. He said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that imposing sanctions after the Russian offensive would make them meaningless.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (RQE) also urged senators to vote in favor of Mr Cruz’s bill. “We can send a stern warning to Putin that he will not be allowed to use energy as a weapon. …”
Mr McConnell said Mr Cruz’s bill that would impose sanctions is not about driving a nail into Europe. “The pipeline is the nail.” They said. “That’s the whole point. That has been Putin’s goal, to isolate Ukraine from Europe and make Europe even more dependent on Russian gas.”
Sen. Jean Shaheen (d., NH) responded in a speech that he shared concerns expressed by Mr. McConnell that Russia is a threat to Ukraine and Eastern Europe. She said she has long been an opponent of Nord Stream 2, co-sponsoring the previous sanctions bill with Mr Cruz during the Trump administration.
But Ms Shaheen said she does not support Mr Cruz’s current bill, and argued it would undermine important diplomatic efforts by the Biden administration.
“Supporting his bill would be a vote to compromise trans-Atlantic unity,” she said. “It’s a vote that breaks the message of bipartisan support in the face of the Russian aggression. And moreover, not just bipartisan support, but allied support.”
Write Lindsay Wise [email protected] . Feather