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GOP calls for Russia restart with Senate sanctions vote

What won’t happen, however, is outright victory for the GOP. The White House is aggressively pushing Democrats to reject Senator Ted Cruz’s bill that financially crushes the pipeline known as Nord Stream 2, and Democrats are expected to block the legislation as early as Thursday.

But Republicans are eager to use the issue to their political advantage as President Joe Biden holds delicate talks with Russia over its military build-up on the border with Ukraine.

The Democrats have just “spent a huge amount of political capital to hold together all their people who don’t want to be in this position” to oppose the sanctions, said Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican of Idaho. the foreign relations committee. “I mean, that makes absolutely no sense.”

Biden and his national security deputies argue that Cruz’s bill would undermine their desire for unity with European allies against aggression from Russia, in Ukraine and elsewhere. Yet the administration’s lobbying against Bill Cruz, coupled with the Democrats’ counterproposal, seems to Republicans a frantic move to avoid an embarrassing loss.

And the GOP’s approach is supported by senior Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has publicly urged senators to support Cruz’s legislation. (Ukraine has long opposed the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which bypasses its territory, fearing the energy project could strengthen Moscow’s position in Europe.)

Cruz shouted that “the White House is scrambling. They are trying very hard to put political pressure on the Democrats. The conservative Texan, who has led the pipeline sanctions campaign for months, added that the Biden administration’s forceful response comes after Democrats “spent five years with Donald Trump as president yelling ‘Russia Russia Russia ‘”.

Indeed, the Biden administration is working hard to ensure there are as few Democratic defections as possible when the sanctions vote. Senior State Department officials informed Democrats of the fence on Monday evening, and a trio of officials from the Defense, State and Treasury departments came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to persuade senators and aides. The State Department also detonated a note on the matter at Senate offices.

The Biden administration’s arguments seem to resonate with Democrats, even those who have most expressed the need to sanction Nord Stream 2. So far almost all Democrats have resisted Cruz’s approach, citing the need to allow Biden to engage in diplomacy with the Kremlin fearing he would re-invade Ukraine in the coming days.

The Democrats also accused Cruz of having abused Senate rules in order to force a debate on his sanctions package. The Texas Republican got a vote on his bill as part of a deal last month with Democratic leaders after Cruz delayed prompt confirmation of dozens of candidates for Biden’s ambassador.

The Biden administration came under bipartisan criticism last year when it decided to lift mandatory sanctions on the pipeline out of a desire to restore relations with Germany, which is backing the project as a means of boosting its resources. in natural gas. But Germany’s new government has since changed its stance on the matter, agreeing to suspend the final certification of Nord Stream 2 as Putin threatens to invade Ukraine.

Democrats previously backed sanctions on the pipeline, but now argue that the circumstances surrounding the issue have changed, requiring a change on their part as well.

In response to Cruz’s bet, a large group of Democratic senators on Wednesday unveiled legislation that would impose severe sanctions on Russia – including on Nord Stream 2 – if Moscow invaded its neighbor. The plan, Democrats say, preserves Biden’s ability to use the not-yet-operational pipeline as leverage to convince Putin to back down.

“This is the first and main reason why I did it,” said Senate Foreign Relations Speaker Bob Menendez (DN.J.), who presented the counterproposal on Wednesday, in an interview. . “We face an immediate challenge: the potential for Russian invasion. So what is the best solution to deter Russia? “

The clash between the two legislative courts over Russia may not go along easy party lines this week. Democrats warn that Cruz’s bill would separate the United States from European allies, undermining Biden’s push for transatlantic unity in the face of aggression from Russia. They say Cruz wishes Biden to fail and hopes to support his own presidential ambitions.

Yet even as Republicans criticize Menendez’s effort as an offer of political cover designed to give Democrats the opportunity to oppose Cruz’s bill while maintaining a firm stance on Russia, some of they might end up voting for it. Sen. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.) is among GOP members expressing openness to the harsh sanctions prescribed in Menendez’s bill, which lawmakers say would be justified if Russia invaded Ukraine.

“You could get 95 senators voting for this, maybe 99,” Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), A senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, added of Menendez’s proposal, which is supported by majority leader Chuck Schumer. “There is a point of view that this is used to cover up the Cruz vote, which I don’t see as that.”

Republicans would prefer to keep the focus on Democrats who strayed from Cruz’s bill, noting that nearly all senators previously supported the exact penalties outlined in the legislation.

“At this point, the only thing that has changed is that instead of a Republican in the White House, there is a Democrat in the White House,” said Cruz. “And many Senate Democrats currently seem keenly prepared to put partisan loyalty above national security.”

The GOP’s campaign arm in the Senate is already using the vote to pressure vulnerable Democrats who are running for re-election this year.

At least one of those Democrats, Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, is considering supporting Cruz’s bill. But it’s unclear whether more Democrats will join her, and Republicans concede they’re unlikely to get the 60 votes required for the switchover.


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