The new pipeline, Nord Stream 2, is entirely owned by Russian energy company Gazprom, a majority of which is owned by the Russian government. The pipeline has already been completed but is not yet running because it has not received German regulatory approval.
The White House said Thursday it strongly opposed Cruz’s measure, which it argued “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 does not believe this bill is a genuine effort to counter Russian aggression or protect Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement.
Cruz’s legislation garnered support from 55 senators, short of the 60 votes necessary for passage. Democratic leaders, with the backing of the White House, proposed a competing package of sanctions Wednesday in a bid to tamp down potential defections.
Despite the measure’s failure, Cruz said the “large bipartisan majority” that backed it had sent a message to the Biden administration with Thursday’s vote.
“President Biden should listen to the Senate and to the people and government of Ukraine, and reverse his catastrophic decision to grant Russia waivers from congressionally mandated sanctions,” he said in a statement.
The Cruz measure called for Biden to impose sanctions on “entities responsible for the planning, construction, or operation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and their corporate officers” within 15 days. The president would have been able to lift the sanctions for “national security” purposes with congressional approval.
Thursday’s developments took place after a deal hammered out last month that unlocked confirmations for a slew of ambassador picks in exchange for a floor vote on Cruz’s bill.
Proponents of the legislation argued that it is a means of opposing Russian aggression, with Cruz on Thursday calling Nord Stream 2 “the pipeline that Putin built so he can invade Ukraine.”
“Putin sees Nord Stream 2 as an alternate route to get his gas to Europe that Ukraine cannot touch, and so he has moved to complete what he couldn’t do in 2014,” Cruz said in remarks on the Senate floor, referring to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine that year.
A vote against the legislation, Cruz added, would “effectively give a green light to Putin.”
Opponents have argued that it is necessary to retain the threat of sanctions — without yet enacting them — in order to deter Putin from invading Ukraine in the future. If the United States moves unilaterally and prematurely, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) argued Thursday, it could “have the opposite effect” — and “might even be the excuse Putin is looking for right now.”
“Right now, we have a new German government that has blocked the pipeline from moving forward,” Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on the Senate floor. “Right now, that German government is a productive partner with us on this critical issue. They are where we need them to be — working to coerce Putin not to re-invade Ukraine, making clear that if Putin advances into Ukraine, there will be no Nord Stream.”
“That is where we need the German government to be,” he said.
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Menendez, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and other senior Democratic senators unveiled competing legislation that would sanction Putin if he invades Ukraine.
“We engaged in some pretty quick education amongst our colleagues to explain how circumstances had changed in particular with this new German government,” Murphy told reporters as the Senate was on the verge of defeating the bill. “With a handful of colleagues, we ran out of time, but I’m glad 85 percent of the Democratic caucus showed solidarity with the president. I think that’s significant.”
The Democratic-led effort is backed by the White House. It would impose sweeping sanctions on top Russian military and government officials, including Putin and other leaders, as well as key banking institutions, if Moscow engages in hostilities against Ukraine. It would target companies in Russia that offer secure messaging systems such as SWIFT, which banks use to exchange key information with other financial institutions.
It also includes provisions to help bolster Ukraine’s security. Calling Nord Stream 2 a “tool of malign influence of the Russian Federation,” the legislation encourages the United States to “consider all available and appropriate measures” to ensure the pipeline doesn’t get up and running.
National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the White House supports Menendez’s bill — which would “trigger severe costs to Russia’s economy” if Putin invades Ukraine — and that other measures, such as the one pushed by Cruz, will “not counter further Russian aggression or protect Ukraine.”
Even so, some Democrats remained unconvinced.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who voted for Cruz’s measure, said in a statement Thursday that she supports both the Texas Republican’s plan and the White House-backed proposal because the United States “must do whatever is in our power to prevent this pipeline project from coming online.”
“As Vladimir Putin escalates his provocative aggression toward Ukraine, we must stand firm and hold the Kremlin accountable for their past actions and develop tools to deter future aggression,” Baldwin said.
The other Democrats who voted with Republicans to impose the Nord Stream 2 sanctions were Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Jacky Rosen (Nev.) and Raphael G. Warnock (Ga.).
In its statement Thursday, the White House said the Biden administration “has been clear with our allies that Nord Stream 2 is a harmful Russian geopolitical project that is a bad deal for Ukraine and a bad deal for Europe.”
“The Administration strongly believes any new sanctions authority should allow us to impose maximal costs on Russia if it further invades Ukraine, in a manner that would preserve Transatlantic unity,” it said, adding that Cruz’s legislation “does not do” that.
Sammy Westfall contributed to this report.