Democrats scramble to sink Cruz’s plan to impose sanctions over Nord Stream pipeline

The effort comes as a number of Democrats question whether they should break with the administration and back the Cruz measure, fearing to appear soft on Russia amid mounting tensions with Ukraine and eager to send a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on the North Channeling Stream 2. Approval of the plan would be an embarrassment for the Biden administration, which argued that the sanctions would undermine US efforts to deter the threat from Russia.

Democrats quietly craft an alternative plan – led by Senate Foreign Relations President Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey – and encourage their members to support that Democratic plan instead of Cruz’s. The plan would impose sanctions on Russia, but only if it invaded Ukraine, Democratic senators said.

It’s unclear whether the administration supports Menendez’s measure – and all the specific details of the bill – but it has been the subject of increasing discussion among Democrats, including in a private Senate meeting on Monday night. with Senior State Department official Victoria Nuland. .

“I think it’s a lot stronger,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said of Menendez’s measure, noting that he had included language dealing with the Baltic region in the plan. “This is a strong message for Putin – much better than the Cruz approach.”

Menendez told reporters on Monday that her plan was “the mother of all sanctions laws” that would impose sanctions on individuals and industrial sectors “if Russia invaded Ukraine.”

Cruz forced a concession from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for a vote by this week on his Nord Stream 2 bill after he delayed promptly confirming dozens of Biden’s candidates to be ambassadors and to occupy other senior positions in the State Department. If it were to be passed by the Senate, it is not clear whether it would be raised by the Democratic-controlled House.

Still, some Democrats are weighing in to support the plan, bringing the bill closer to the 60 votes needed for passage.

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat from Nevada likely to be re-elected in the fall, told CNN on Monday that she supports the Cruz measure.

“I’m going to be consistent,” the Nevada Democrat said. “Listen, I think we have to be strong to support Ukraine against Russian interference and aggression quite honestly. I have always been consistent in my positions.”

Senator Joe Manchin, the moderate Democrat from West Virginia, said Monday he was unsure whether he would support the Cruz plan. “That’s what I’m going to find out about,” when asked if he supported the measure.

Cruz believes the new 750-mile pipeline, which is not yet operational, would empower Putin and allow him to exert a dangerous leverage effect on Europe by controlling the flow of much-needed natural gas. . The Ukrainian government has come out in favor of his plan.

But the Biden administration, which has changed its stance on the need for sanctions against the project, now argues that the West will have better leverage over the threat of Russian aggression against Ukraine if the pipeline works, because Germany would be able to deactivate it if Russia in fact invades its neighbor.

“Some may see Nord Stream 2 as a lever that Russia can use against Europe; in fact, it is a lever that Europe can use against Russia, ”Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who hosted Monday’s briefing with Nuland, slammed Cruz’s bill but said he was unsure if he would get the 60 votes needed to move on to the final vote.

“It is not a good policy for the US Senate to allow Ted Cruz to separate us from our transatlantic partners in the midst of a delicate negotiation over the future of US-Russian and Europe-Russia policy,” said Murphy.

It remains to be seen if this argument will unite Democrats, many of whom have voted in favor of sanctions against the project in the past, and prevent Cruz’s measure from getting the 60 votes it needs to pass. For foreign policy hawks and some Democrats running for reelection, the desire to vote to punish Russia is strong.

Speaking in the room on Monday, Durbin criticized Cruz’s bill as a “weaker response to the Ukrainian border crisis” and said it “would only serve to complicate efforts to restore relations with our European ally, Germany, which has crucial energy needs “. He also said Cruz’s measure would set a “dangerous precedent” because it would make it more difficult for Biden to lift the sanctions if he decides it is in the best interest of the United States.

Cruz’s agreement with Schumer provided for a vote to take place on Thursday. Assistants and Senators won’t say exactly when the vote will take place, but it is expected this week. At this time, there is no vote on Menendez’s alternative, although that may change before the vote on Cruz.

Cruz’s legislation “would require the imposition of sanctions against the entities responsible for the planning, construction or operation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and their managers,” according to a summary of the bill.

CNN’s Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.

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