Republican-backed legislation aimed at keeping Russia from strengthening its position as the major supplier of natural gas to western Europe appeared to come up several votes short of passage Thursday, with the White House and leading Democrats saying the measure won’t deter Russian aggression and could harm relations between the U.S. and Germany.
The latest partisan dispute surrounds Russia’s new Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was built so Russia can double the amount of natural gas its exports to Germany.
Republicans believe the pipeline will dangerously increase Russian political influence in Europe while diminishing the region as a viable market for U.S. natural gas exports.
The Trump administration had imposed sanctions on companies planning and building the pipeline, but President Biden lifted the sanctions last year, saying at the time, that the project was nearly complete anyway and that it would help repair relations with Germany, which supports the new pipeline.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced a bill to reimpose the sanctions and was able to get a commitment from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to bring it up for a vote by Jan. 14 in exchange for releasing the hold he had put on dozens of Biden ambassador nominations.
Democrats who had been outspoken in opposing Nord Stream 2 but who didn’t want to appear to undermine the president’s position were given an off-ramp this week when Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a competing sanctions bill which is backed by the administration. It would not immediately impose sanctions on the pipeline as the Cruz bill would but threatens to impose them and more if Russia invaded Ukraine.
More than three hours after voting on the measure started, the tally was 55-43, with six Democrats voting in favor of the sanctions, and one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), opposing them.
In an interview Wednesday, Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford said he was fine with both bills, but said President Biden is to blame for putting the U.S. in this position.
"It was challenging near the very beginning of this administration where literally, in the first days a year ago, the Biden administration canceled the Keystone pipeline and lifted the sanctions on the Russian pipeline,” Sen. Lankford said.
Lankford said the Russians are now massing troops along the Ukraine border and seem to be using the pipeline as a bargaining chip.
"[They're] saying we won’t attack Ukraine, if you won’t actually put sanctions on this," said Lankford. "It puts our administration in a bad position to capitulate to Putin‘s aggression rather than actually standing where we should be as the United States."
Members of Oklahoma's House delegation also expressed concern with the administration's actions and support for the Cruz sanctions.
"We should never have let that move forward," Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK5) in an interview Wednesday. “This administration decided to let Nord Stream 2 go and finish out, and I think in some ways it has become a national security issue."
"This administration greenlighted it," Rep, Tom Cole (R-OK4) stated in an interview Thursday. “The Trump administration opposed it. So far, no oil or gas has flowed through it, and I think it’s a good thing to get a vote on and see where everybody is at.”