Ted Cruz releases holds on Biden nominees as administration looks to get tough on Russia pipeline

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Sen. Ted Cruz lifted his holds on two of President Joe Biden’s top nominees on Thursday after the State Department indicated it would punish entities involved in the construction of a controversial Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline.

In a statement Thursday, the Texas Republican said he would no longer delay Senate confirmation of William Burns, Biden’s nominee for CIA director, and Brian McKeon, Biden’s choice for deputy secretary of State for management and resources. The Senate confirmed both nominations unanimously later Thursday.

Cruz — who has led a bipartisan group of senators pushing for sanctions that would stifle the pipeline, known as Nord Stream 2 — said he decided to allow the nominations to proceed after Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a “strong declaration” hinting at future sanctions.

“As the president has said, Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal — for Germany, for Ukraine, and for our Central and Eastern European allies and partners,” Blinken said in a statement Thursday. “The [State] Department reiterates its warning that any entity involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline risks U.S. sanctions and should immediately abandon work on the pipeline.”

Blinken added that the Biden administration “is committed to complying” with legislation pushed by Cruz and top lawmakers from both parties that imposes mandatory sanctions.

William Burns, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director, testifies during his Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Tom Williams/Pool via AP)
William Burns, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director, testifies during his Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Tom Williams/Pool via AP)

“I welcome today’s statement by Secretary Blinken, which reinforces to the international community that there is a bicameral, bipartisan, and whole of government commitment in the United States to stopping Putin’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline,” Cruz said. “Entities that are engaged in work on Nord Stream 2 today now understand that they will face devastating sanctions unless the work stops immediately.”

Cruz said he would maintain his hold on Biden’s nominee to be deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, “until the full sanctions mandated by Congress are in fact broadly imposed against the ships and companies critical to completing the pipeline.” Sherman has drawn scorn from Republicans over her role in crafting the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.

POLITICO reported last week that the Biden administration was preparing to slap sanctions on the entities helping to build the pipeline, which is at least 90 percent completed. The pipeline has been a source of tension between the U.S. and Germany, with Berlin pushing for its completion and Washington insisting that the pipeline would expand Russian President Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical reach and undermine Europe’s energy security.

Nord Stream 2 has put the Biden administration in a bind, though, as it seeks to repair the U.S. relationship with Germany, which suffered under Donald Trump. But lawmakers and the White House alike vigorously oppose the pipeline, and the bipartisan pressure from Capitol Hill has escalated in recent weeks.

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