Democrats race to squash Cruz’s Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) arrives to the Capitol for a cloture vote regarding a nomination on Wednesday, January 5, 2022.
Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are scrambling to try to squash legislation from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to slap sanctions on businesses linked to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will carry gas from Russia to Germany.

State Department officials, at the invitation of Senate Democrats opposed to Cruz’s bill, on Monday night briefed a group of Democrats, including senators viewed as swing votes on the GOP sanctions bills that will get a vote this week. To pass the bill through the Senate, Cruz will need to the support of at least 10 Democratic senators.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who opposes Cruz’s bill and helped organize Monday’s meeting, said he thought momentum was moving toward Democrats blocking Cruz’s legislation, though he wasn’t sure if they would be able to keep the number of Democratic “yes” votes below 10.

“Sen. Cruz’s desire is to break the United States from Europe,” Murphy said. “I think this amendment is really unwise, and I don’t know where the votes will land on it.”

“We asked them to brief the group of senators who we know are undecided,” Murphy added about the meeting with the State Department officials.

Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Jackie Rosen (Nev.) and John Hickenlooper (Colo.) were among the senators entering Monday night’s briefing, where Victoria Nuland, the under secretary of State for political affairs, met with senators.

Senators say the pitch from the State Department focused on an argument that Cruz’s amendment wouldn’t deter Russia from invading Ukraine, where it has amassed troops along the border.

“The message was that it would hurt the negotiations that have been going on with Germany, with the Ukraine in terms of Russia’s impact on the Ukraine,” Tester said.

Tester, who said he was undecided, added that the administration needs to do a “better job of messaging where the flaws are” in the Cruz proposal.

“It was very, very interesting, I think it puts Germany in a difficult situation. … We’ve got make sure if we’re going to do sanctions that the sanctions are focused on the problem and not on collateral folks,” Tester said.

Manchin added that he was trying to learn about the potential “diplomatic ramifications” with the U.S-German relationship if Cruz’s legislation was passed.

“I’m learning more about that. … I’m gonna look and see. I’m going to hear both sides of this argument,” Manchin said, indicating that he was also going to reach out to German officials.

Democrats agreed to allow for a vote on Cruz’s legislation at a 60-vote threshold in exchange for the Texas Republican dropping his blockade on some of Biden’s nominees, who were confirmed as part of a marathon session late last year. As part of the deal, the Senate has to vote on Cruz’s legislation by Jan. 14.

Cruz told reporters late last week that he thinks he has a “good” chance of winning over enough Democrats.

“Senate Dems have a choice. Do they: (1) Stand up to Putin, stop Russian aggression, and support Ukraine & “virtually all of Europe and even half the German government” OR (2) Put partisan loyalty to the Biden WH above US national security? It should be a simple choice,” Cruz added in a tweet over the weekend.

The Biden administration previously waived sanctions on the pipeline’s project company Nord Stream 2 AG, a subsidiary of the Russian-owned company Gazprom. Voting for Cruz’s amendment would effectively be supporting nixing Biden’s decision. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has sparked bipartisan backlash in Congress, but Democrats have faced pressure from the Biden administration and European allies to reject slapping financial penalties on the pipeline.

Democrats are raising concerns about restrictions on President Biden’s ability to wave sanctions, including the ability for Congress to vote to reinstate the penalties if they are waived. The vote also comes amid ramped-up tensions with Russia and diplomatic talks this week about how to defuse tensions over Ukraine.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is also drafting legislation, which he predicted would be rolled out on Wednesday, that is aimed as an alternative to Cruz’s legislation. Menendez’s bill isn’t expected to get a vote this week, but it’s being circulated among Democrats with the hope of giving them something they can support that isn’t Cruz’s legislation.

“It is, as I’ve called it, the mother of all sanctions legislation … that would be poised, ready to go, if Russia invaded Ukraine,” Menendez said.

Menendez added that he thought his bill would “bring a large universe [of] people who know that this is the better way to achieve the goal of not having Russia invade Ukraine than Cruz’s Nord Stream sanctions.”

Tags Bob Menendez Chris Murphy Germany Jeanne Shaheen Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Hickenlooper Jon Tester Nord Stream 2 pipeline Robert Menendez Russia Ted Cruz Ukraine

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