The Senate will vote next month on legislation from Sen. Ted Cruz to impose Nord Stream 2 pipeline sanctions as part of a deal that allowed Democrats to clear dozens of President Biden's nominees.
Under the agreement, locked in during a rare all-night session, the Senate will vote on Cruz's legislation on sanctions related to the construction of the pipeline, which allows Russia to deliver natural gas to Germany, by Jan. 14. It will need 60 votes to ultimately pass.
The deal comes after days of negotiations between Cruz and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer that seemed to routinely yo-yo, even in the hours leading up to the agreement, from stalemate to progress and back again.
Cruz put a wide-ranging hold on Biden's State and Treasury nominees earlier this year, vowing to maintain the blockade until the Biden administration imposes congressionally mandated sanctions on the pipeline.
A hold by a senator doesn't prevent the nominees from being confirmed if they have the support of 50 senators, but it does require leadership to eat up floor time in order to get a final vote.
Cruz, even while largely maintaining his holds, has also let some nominees be cleared easily, including former Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who were confirmed to be the ambassadors to Turkey and New Zealand, respectively.
But the stalemate on dozens of Biden nominees, which frustrated Democrats, administration officials and even some Republicans, took on more urgency as the Senate headed toward the end of its work year. Absent an agreement with Republicans, Democrats would have to send nominees back to the White House at the end of the year and force Biden to renominate them.
Schumer and Cruz had previously agreed on a vote on Nord Stream 2 sanctions as an amendment to a sweeping defense bill in exchange for Cruz dropping holds on seven ambassador nominees.
But that package of amendments was blocked by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who wanted a vote on his proposal on banning imports from China’s Xinjiang region, where administration officials have accused the government of carrying out genocide against Uyghur Muslims, or a vote in the House. A deal that Rubio struck with House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) ultimately passed this week.
As part of the talks this week, Cruz initially offered to drop his holds on 16 State Department nominees, but Schumer and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said Cruz had to drop his holds on all of his Treasury, State and U.S. Agency for International Development nominees in order to get a vote.
Even Friday evening, top Republicans accused Schumer of moving the goal posts, saying that he had asked for votes on roughly 35 nominees as part of the negotiations before going up to 42.
"They just keep changing the game. ... Now they’ve completely changed the people on the list," said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.
Asked as he went on the floor to vote if he felt talks were making progress, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said, "Not that I can tell."
But Schumer was able to clear a deal early Saturday morning that allowed the Senate to confirm 41 ambassadors, including former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, before they left as well as nine judicial nominees.
“At the end of the day, we will have invoked cloture on two circuit judges, confirmed nine district court judges, confirmed 41 ambassadors, and confirmed five other members of President Biden’s team,” Schumer said.
“It’s been a long day but a good day’s work. I thank my colleagues,” he said.
The vote on Cruz's legislation could be a tough one for Democrats, some of whom have been critical of the pipeline. Senators, as part of the negotiations on the deal, had debated also having a vote on a competing proposal from Menendez and setting the thresholds for Cruz and Menendez at a simple majority.
Instead, Senate Democrats ultimately agreed to a vote on Cruz's proposal but at a 60-vote threshold, meaning the Texas Republican will need to win over 10 Democratic senators to get his bill through the Senate.
German officials and the Biden administration have urged Congress not to impose sanctions over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, warning that it would undermine the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The administration imposed new sanctions last month on a ship involved in the construction of the gas pipeline, which is a top strategic priority of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Senate aides told The Hill during the debate over whether or not to give them a vote as part of the defense bill that Blinken was urging Democratic senators to block an amendment from by Sens. James Risch (Idaho), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Cruz to impose sanctions on the pipeline.
Source: The Hill