The new bill also gives Democrats an alternative to badly embarrassing President Biden for nixing the Trump-era sanctions on the Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline. The sanctions, mirroring Mr. Biden‘s stance, would only take effect if Russia invades Ukraine.
Republicans say the U.S. can’t wait until after an invasion to get tough on the Kremlin.
The Biden administration has lobbied against the bill by Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, that would immediately affect the Russian undersea pipeline into Germany.
The new measure, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, includes a bevy of threats against Russia should they invade. It would then impose mandatory sanctions against Russian officials and financial institutions as well as measures to bolster Ukrainian defense forces.
The bill would express a “sense of Congress that Nord Stream 2 is a tool of the malign influence of the Russian Federation.” It directs the Biden administration to “consider all available and appropriate measures to prevent the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from becoming operational,” and “to review its prior waiver of Nord Stream 2 in light of the Kremlin’s military buildup and aggression of Ukraine.”
“Having those sanctions is not a bad thing at all,” he said. “But it is designed to allow the Democratic senators to say, ‘See, we’re tough on Russia too, we just don’t like the bill Cruz put on the floor.’ Menendez‘s bill is all about protecting their flanks on Nord Stream 2.”
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.
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.
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.
Several Democrats remained on the fence early this week, prompting Biden administration officials to meet with senators to try to walk back support for the Cruz bill, which they say could tank U.S. leverage amid high-stakes negotiations with Russia.
The State Department said Tuesday that it was 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.”
“My focus on my legislation is not to defeat Sen. Cruz,” Mr. Menendez said. “It is to find the most powerful way to deter Russia from considering invading Ukraine. And I think what we have done in this package that I call the mother of all sanctions package is the most powerful way to achieve that.”
• Joseph Clark can be reached at email@example.com.
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