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Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said Sunday that she believes there are enough senators, both Democratic and Republican, who would be willing to override President Biden and sanction Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Ernst told host Chris Wallace that she believes Biden should reverse course after he waived sanctions against the operator of the near-completed pipeline in May in order to help repair U.S. relations with Germany. Ukraine, however, strongly opposes the pipeline that would carry Russian gas to Germany, saying it will be used as a geopolitical weapon to deprive Ukraine of needed natural gas imports.
Biden is set to have a video call with Putin on Tuesday to discuss the tense situation in Ukraine amid fears Putin is also planning an imminent military invasion of the country.
“I do think that President Biden needs to be very clear and very strong in his message to Vladimir Putin,” Ernst said. “He needs to say to Vladimir Putin that we are no longer going to allow you to continue with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, we need you to know and understand that we will defend Ukraine, we will provide them assistance. He needs to make that very clear.”
Wallace asked the senator whether Congress “could override the president and block the pipeline.”
“Well, I certainly can’t speak for the House,” Ernst responded, “but I do believe that there is a coalescence around these types of actions in the United States Senate – Democrats are concerned, Republicans are concerned. And what we don’t want to do is allow President Putin to continue with the pipeline, especially as he is preparing, perhaps, to invade Ukraine. So, we do have to push back on that, and I think that there is a large group of United States senators that will push back on Vladimir Putin.”
Ernst spoke to Wallace during an interview at the Regan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, alongside Michele Flournoy, the former undersecretary of defense under President Bill Clinton.
Flournoy cautioned Congress against overriding the president on the pipeline because it could “undermine” the economic sanctions the administration is already considering against Russia.
“I think the combination of sanctions that are being considered would be even more powerful than the signal of blocking the pipeline,” Flournoy said. “Remember what Putin is trying to do here, one of his objectives, is to divide the United States and Europe. So if we’re going to maintain transatlantic unity to implement various severe sanctions we’ve got to work with our European partners, and that includes Germany.
“And so I would urge the Senate to think about that, that if you get satisfaction of blocking Nord Stream 2 you might actually undermine the effectiveness of the sanctions that the president is threatening hopefully to put in place against Putin,” she said.
The Biden administration has found itself at odds with some Democratic lawmakers who oppose the pipeline ahead of a looming vote on the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes an amendment that would override the administration’s suspension of the sanctions and require the president to seek congressional approval for future sanctions.
Meanwhile, Putin has amassed about 100,000 troops along Russia’s border with Ukraine, and U.S. officials believe he is planning a multi-front military invasion of Ukraine, involving as many as 175,000 troops, as soon as 2022.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement that Biden’s call with Putin on Tuesday will focus on U.S. concerns with Russia’s military activities on the border with Ukraine and that the president will “reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
“We’ve been aware of Russia’s actions for a long time and my expectation is we’re gonna have a long discussion with Putin,” Biden said Friday.
“What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be, will be, the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do,” he said.