White House opposes proposal by GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, backs other bill
The Cruz bill proposed initiating sanctions no later than 15 days after enactment of the law.
The Biden administration, which opposes the bill, has lobbied Democratic senators against it, arguing that it would remove US leverage to deter Russia and damage ties with Germany and other European allies. Russia has gathered tens of thousands of troops around Ukraine, and talks in Geneva between the US and Russia produced no breakthroughs this week.
“The Administration does not believe this bill is a genuine effort to counter Russian aggression or protect Ukraine,” the White House said Thursday. “In fact, if passed, the legislation would only serve to undermine unity amongst our European allies at a crucial moment when we need to present a unified front in response to Russian threats against Ukraine.”
The administration has endorsed an alternative bill offered by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D., NJ). That legislation would direct the administration to review its waiver 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 isn’t known when that bill might get a Senate vote.
Mr. Cruz slammed the Biden administration for what he said was a catastrophic decision last year to waive Nord Stream sanctions. The State Department waived penalties on the pipeline’s parent company and chief executive in May as part of an effort to strengthen relations with its ally Germany.
“The eyes of history are upon us,” Mr. Cruz said in a floor speech ahead of the vote. “Today each of us will be faced with a momentous question: Can we put petty differences aside and can we come together to defend our friend and our ally Ukraine against imminent Russian aggression?”
Mr. Cruz accused Democrats of flip-flopping, and he criticized Mr. Menendez’s sanctions bill as weak.
Mr. Cruz said he doubted that sanctions would be imposed after an invasion, especially once the pipeline was complete and Germans were reliant on Russian natural gas from Nord Stream 2 to heat their homes. He noted that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that applying sanctions after a Russian invasion would make them meaningless.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R. Ky.) also urged senators to vote in favor of Mr. Cruz’s bill. “We can send a strong warning to Putin that he won’t be allowed to use energy as a weapon.…”
Mr. McConnell said the sanctions that Mr. Cruz’s bill would impose aren’t about driving a wedge in Europe. “The pipeline itself is the wedge.” he said. “That’s the whole point. That has been Putin’s goal, decoupling Ukraine from Europe and making Europe even more reliant on Russian gas.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., NH) responded in a speech that she shared the concerns expressed by Mr. McConnell about the threat that Russia poses to Ukraine and Eastern Europe. She added that she has been a longtime opponent of Nord Stream 2, co-sponsoring a previous sanctions bill with Mr. Cruz, during the Trump administration.
But Ms. Shaheen said she doesn’t support Mr. Cruz’s current bill, and argued that it would undermine critical diplomatic efforts by the Biden administration.
“Supporting his bill would be a vote to compromise trans-Atlantic unity,” she said. “It is a vote that breaks the message of bipartisan support in the face of Russian aggression. And furthermore, not just bipartisan support, but allied support.”
Write to Lindsay Wise at [email protected]