Biden administration campaigns against Cruz's Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill

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The Biden administration is weighing in against Sen. Ted Cruz’s bill to reimpose sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2.

Several Democrats remained on the fence early this week, prompting a briefing from administration officials late Monday in a bid to walk back support for the bill, which they say could tank U.S. leverage amid high-stakes negotiations with Russia.

“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,” a State Department spokesperson told The Washington Times on Tuesday.

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Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, got the Senate’s Democratic leaders to schedule a Jan. 14 vote on his sanctions bill in exchange for him releasing holds on dozens of Biden appointees. The bill would restore sanctions Mr. Biden withdrew from the nearly-operational undersea pipeline from Russia to Germany.

Critics contend that the natural gas pipeline will increase Moscow’s dominance over European energy markets and put Germany and other countries at risk of energy extortion.

The Biden administration waived the Trump-era sanctions against the pipeline in May. It argued that the sanctions would have little effect in curbing progress on the pipeline, which runs through the Baltic Sea.

Now, with U.S.-Russia tensions deteriorating by the day, the administration is using the threat of renewed sanctions on the pipeline as leverage to deter Russia from invading Ukraine.

Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland and White House energy adviser Amos Hochstein met with 10 Democrats who remained undecided ahead of the vote.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat who attended Monday’s briefing, said the administration made the case that the sanctions could hurt the U.S. position in ongoing negotiations with European partners about Russian aggression against Ukraine.

But Mr. Tester said immediately after the briefing that the administration “has to do a better job of messaging where the flaws are” with Mr. Cruz’s bill.

As of late Monday, Mr. Tester said he was undecided as to how he would vote.

The administration is engaged in a series of discussions on European security this week, amid heightened tensions stemming from Russia’s troop buildup on its border with Ukraine.

Other Democrats have raised questions about how the sanctions could impact the U.S. relationship with Germany.

The administration said Mr. Cruz’s bill “is not a genuine effort to counter further Russian aggression or protect Ukraine.”

“At this moment, it is critical to ensure maximum transatlantic unity in addressing the potential Russian threat to Ukraine,” a State Department spokesperson said. “Russia would interpret any daylight in our positions stemming from sanctions on NS2 AG as an opportunity to exploit a fissure in the transatlantic relationship.”

Mr. Cruz’s bill needs 60 votes to pass and Republicans have said they are confident they can secure enough support to get it over the finish line.

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was highly critical of the pipeline after the July deal was announced, but voting to undo Mr. Biden’s moves would be a rebuke on a much larger scale.

Mr. Menendez previously offered legislation that would authorize the sanctions — but only in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ultimatum is in line with Mr. Biden’s stance.

The State Department said Tuesday that it is working with lawmakers “on a package of sanctions that maximizes the potential costs to Russia if they further invade Ukraine which [Mr. Cruz’s] legislation does not do.”

Sen. James E. Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the administration‘s reluctance to take a firm stance on Nord Stream 2 is mystifying.

“This is a really frustrating issue because virtually every member of Congress wants to see the Nord Stream 2 project sanctioned and stopped,” Mr. Risch said. “The administration, for whatever reason, made the decision that they want to do that.”

“They stopped a pipeline coming in from Canada,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you stop a pipeline that has national security implications. That’s the frustrating part of this thing.”

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