(Bloomberg) — Senator Pat Toomey and 11 other Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee are threatening to block two Treasury nominees unless the Biden administration reverses its stance on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany and imposes new sanctions on the project.
“The Nord Stream II natural gas pipeline directly harms the national security interests of the United States and our allies and partners,” the letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen begins. “If completed, this project will increase Vladimir Putin’s malign influence over Europe, destabilize Ukraine’s fragile security, and encourage further Russian aggression.”
The senators say they will oppose the nominations of Brian Nelson and Elizabeth Rosenberg, who have been nominated to positions overseeing sanctions implementation, unless their demands are met.
Officials at the Treasury Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Because of the 50-50 split in the Senate, the opposition of all 12 Republican members of the Senate Banking Committee means that a floor vote would be necessary to discharge the nominees from committee, a process that has been done for a small number of other Biden administration nominees.
Success on the Senate floor would require at least one Democratic senator opposed to the completion of Nord Stream 2 to join all Republicans in rejecting the nominations.
After the Biden administration last week announced a deal to allow completion of the pipeline in return for German assurances it would help protect Ukraine from a Russian energy cutoff, several Democrats, including Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, expressed disappointment with the administration’s stance, saying the agreement “falls short” of his expectations.
“I remain opposed to the Nordstream 2 pipeline, which will negatively impact the security of Ukraine & Europe,” Menendez tweeted after the deal was announced.
The pipeline has been opposed by lawmakers from both parties on Capitol Hill, with members arguing that it would give Moscow too much leverage over European national security. President Joe Biden’s administration initially suggested it would try to halt construction but later shifted its approach, saying doing so would be a long shot and only sour relations with the German government, a key NATO ally.
Administration officials have repeatedly argued that the pipeline was about 90% completed when they took office, suggesting the Trump administration responded too slowly to stop the project.
“Can we make something out of a very bad hand that we inherited?” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month in an interview with the German publication Der Spiegel. “Because yes, President Biden has long said that the pipeline is a bad idea, that it will potentially be a tool of Russian economic coercion and strategic coercion, a tool that can be used not only against Ukraine but indeed Europe as a whole to the extent it increases dependence on Russian gas.”
The Republican senators want the Biden administration to impose sanctions on the pipeline under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, saying that because the company supervising work on the pipeline is doing business with sanctioned entities, it is subject to sanctions itself. The administration had previously sanctioned the company, along with several other entities working on the pipeline, but waived the penalties on Nord Stream 2 AG and its chief executive Matthias Warnig for national security reasons.
In addition to Toomey, the letter to Yellen was also signed by Senators Richard Shelby, Mike Crapo, Tim Scott, Mike Rounds, Thom Tillis, John Kennedy, Bill Hagerty, Cynthia Lummis, Jerry Moran, Kevin Cramer and Steve Daines.
“We urge you to reverse course on Nord Stream II and join us in Congress’ long-standing defense of European allies and partners from malign Russian aggression,” the letter concludes. “Thank you for considering this urgent national security matter.”