What to Know in Washington: Germany’s Scholz Halts Nord Stream 2

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The western response to Russia’s latest escalation over Ukraine became clearer as Germany halted the certification process for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline following President Vladimir Putin’s decision to send troops to two self-proclaimed separatist republics.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who held a call with Putin late yesterday, said that the Russian leader’s recognition of the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine had materially changed the situation so that “no certification of the pipeline can happen right now.” Without it, he told reporters in Berlin, the gas pipeline from Russia to Germany “cannot go into operation.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House earlier this month.

Nord Stream 2 is a priority project for Putin that he has personally pushed from its inception. The decision to put it into limbo demonstrates Germany’s determination to shoulder the economic cost of holding Putin to account for his actions, which effectively tear up years of diplomatic efforts spearheaded by Berlin to bring peace to eastern Ukraine. It was the first hint of a round of U.S. and European sanctions due to be announced as soon as Tuesday.

“I expect a very strong and focused package,” Scholz said.

President Joe Biden issued an executive order prohibiting U.S. investment, trade, and financing to separatist regions of Ukraine, and Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said additional American sanctions against Russia would be coming on today. The U.K. is set to impose sanctions on Russia, while the European Union has begun the process of agreeing penalties for Putin’s actions.

For the moment, western officials indicated that Russia’s recognition wasn’t a dramatic enough step to prompt the severe economic sanctions threatened in case of a full-scale invasion. A senior administration official told reporters the sanctions currently planned are separate from the more severe economic measures the Biden administration has said it would impose should Putin move forward with an invasion.

The U.S. said the White House was still open to a meeting between Biden and Putin—predicated on Russia not proceeding with an attack. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva Thursday to discuss the crisis. Read more from Henry Meyer.

In the U.S., the response varied across the ideological spectrum with some of the more moderate Republican lawmakers immediately drawing the conclusion that what Putin did was an invasion.

Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney (R) was the most direct and tweeted right out the of the gates: “Russia has invaded Ukraine.” U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R) of Louisiana said in a statement “Russia invading Ukraine violates every international norm.”

Democrats were careful in their choice of words. Chris Coons (D) of Delaware, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came out to say “President Putin in a rambling, grievance-fueled speech today has made clear he intends to further invade Ukraine in a blatant effort to redraw the borders of Eastern Europe according to the whims of Moscow.” Indeed, the term “further” seems to be the key, the idea being that Russia has simply made official what Ukraine has long called the reality on the ground. Read more from Andrea Dudik, Milda Seputyte and Flavia Krause-Jackson.

  • Meanwhile, the EU is considering sanctions against 351 lawmakers of the Russian state Duma who voted for recognizing separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, according to EU diplomats who declined to be named on confidential preparations. EU ambassadors also backed targeting commanders of forces that Putin has ordered into the area, the diplomats said. The bloc also discussed targeting two Russian banks, and the financing of Russia’s sovereign debt, one of the diplomats said. Follow the Rolling Coverage Of the Russia-Ukraine Tensions

MORE DEFENSE & FOREIGN AFFAIRS

  • Iran said talks to revive its nuclear deal with world powers have made substantial progress, yet negotiators are still to resolve the “two or three” most difficult issues dividing the sides. Negotiations in Vienna to rekindle the 2015 agreement—which eased sanctions in return for limits on Iran’s nuclear work—are in their 10th month, with diplomats suggesting talks should wrap up by the end of February. Read more from Arsalan Shahla. Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov after a meeting today with EU coordinator Enrique Mora said negotiations “apparently” are “about to cross the finish line,” Patrick Sykes reports.
  • Former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is scheduled to travel to Taiwan next month, one of the most senior U.S. dignitaries to visit the democratically ruled island in recent years. The former top U.S. diplomat and potential GOP presidential contender will visit Taiwan from March 2-5, the Foreign Ministry in Taipei said. Samson Ellis and Cindy Wang have more.

Progressive Jayapal Boosts Centrist Democrats’ Fundraising

House Democratic moderates facing some of the toughest races next year in swing districts are getting help from the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose members have occasionally butted heads with their more centrist colleagues.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) has donated tens of thousands of dollars to almost all members in competitive districts identified as frontliners. She also started hitting the campaign trail with these vulnerable incumbents, appearing at a fundraiser earlier this month.

Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Bloomberg
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has been helping more moderate Democratic members.

Jayapal said her donations to these members serves a dual purpose: helping Democrats keep control of the House and building alliances across the party to pass parts of the progressive agenda. “Part of our success as the Progressive Caucus over the last year has been that ability to build relationships across the Democratic caucus,” she said in an interview. The donations could also be a factor if Jayapal runs for a position in House leadership next year.

Jayapal said she’s been “discussing different positions,” though it isn’t clear which, if any, spots in the Democratic caucus will be open. “There might be an opportunity for me to provide leadership skills, and I’m interested in that potentially if that comes about,” she said. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

  • Meanwhile, outside groups are raising pressure on the White House to play a more active role in revamping Democrats’ centerpiece economic legislation. The White House’s hopes of passing a $2 trillion climate, social spending, and tax package stalled in December, when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced he wouldn’t back it. Concern is growing among left-leaning advocates that if the White House doesn’t quickly re-engage with Manchin and make tough decisions on getting all Democrats on board, the window will close on passing anything before the midterms. Colin Wilhelm has more.

Trump Must Face Suits Over Jan. 6 Riot, Judge Says

Donald Trump must face lawsuits accusing him of inciting the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, a federal judge ruled, rejecting the former president’s immunity and free-speech arguments.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington issued a sweeping 112-page opinion on Friday denying Trump’s motions to dismiss three lawsuits. Mehta said Trump’s speech at a rally before the riot crossed the lines of both the First Amendment and the protections from civil liability presidents usually have while in office.

“To deny a president immunity from civil damages is no small step,” Mehta wrote. “The court well understands the gravity of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent.”

Two of the three suits over the Jan. 6 riot were filed by Congressional Democrats and one by injured Capitol Police officers. Mehta said he would dismiss the lawsuit against another rally speaker, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.). Read more from Joe Schneider.

  • The founder of the right-wing Oath Keepers militia group lost his bid to be freed from jail while he awaits a trial for seditious conspiracy over his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Read more from Malathi Nayak.
  • Trump’s Save America ended January with $108 million in the bank, yet the former president’s PAC didn’t donate any of it last month to the dozens of candidates he’s backing. Trump’s leadership PAC took in $4.1 million and spent $1.5 million in January, according to its latest filing with the Federal Election Commission. By law, Trump can’t spend the PAC’s money on a potential 2024 presidential race. Read more from Bill Allison.
  • Mazars USA’s disavowal of a decade’s worth of Trump Organization financial statements was not only a rarely seen rebuke of a private company accounting client, but also a key turning point for the accounting firm. Mazars, now separate from its high-profile client, must navigate on its own how much to cooperate with prosecutors and fend off potential civil and criminal charges. Read more from Amanda Iacone.

MORE POLITICS & INFLUENCE:

  • Former Bridgewater Associates CEO David McCormick and celebrity physician Mehmet Oz have already shattered spending records in their Republican primary battle for the seat of retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R) that is pivotal to party efforts to retake control of Congress. The two campaigns and the Super PACs supporting them have spent more than $30 million on ads so far, according to AdImpact data. Read more from Mark Niquette.
  • Sen. Ron Johnson has stood out among colleagues for his skepticism of public health measures to combat Covid-19, as well as his advocacy for unproven treatments for the virus. As Johnson (R-Wis.) braces for one of this year’s most competitive Senate races that could determine control of the chamber, the combative Republican isn’t backing away from his controversial stands that often diverge from scientific consensus. Zach C. Cohen and Alex Ruoff have more.
  • Texas counties are rejecting record numbers of mail-in ballot applications just days after the start of early voting as post-2020 changes to voting laws reshape the conduct of elections in the second-largest U.S. state. Harris County, home to Houston and a population bigger than half the states in the union, has rejected more than a third of mail-in ballots sent in thus far for the March 1 primary. Read more from Kevin Crowley.
  • Louisiana would retain a single majority-Black congressional district under a redistricting plan the Republican-led Legislature sent Friday to the governor, ignoring his wishes for a second district that reflected growth in the state’s Black population. Read more from Jennifer Kay.
  • Virginia won’t continue as lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking recognition of the Equal Rights Amendment, as newly elected Attorney General Jason Miyares has opted to drop out of the case. Read more from Chris Marr.

Around the Administration

Biden’s Schedule:

  • At 3:30 p.m., the president will host a virtual event to discuss critical mineral supply chains and clean energy manufacturing. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy and California Governor Gavin Newsom are scheduled to attend. The U.S. will give $35 million to MP Materials Corp. to process heavy rare earth elements at a facility in Southern California as part of a bigger push to challenge foreign dominance in a critical field. The U.S. has lagged far behind countries like China and Canada in extracting lithium, cobalt, and rare-earth elements that are crucial to the manufacture of modern electronics. Officials say that dependence on foreign trade has created national security and economic vulnerabilities. Read more from Justin Sink.
  • At 2 p.m., Press Secretary Jen Psaki is scheduled to hold a briefing with reporters.

Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard said the U.S. central bank is ready to raise interest rates next month and begin shrinking its balance sheet in coming meetings. “Given we have seen quite strong data, I do anticipate it will be appropriate at our next meeting to initiate a series of rate increases,” Brainard, who has been nominated to become Fed vice chair, said Friday. Read more from Michael McKee.

  • Separately, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will appear before the House Financial Services Committee on March 2 for a semiannual hearing on the state of the economy and monetary policy. He’ll appear at a Senate Banking Committee hearing on March 3, Se Young Lee reports.

Permits to drill for oil and gas on U.S. public land will be delayed after a federal judge ruled against the Biden administration’s estimates of the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions, the Interior Department said Saturday. At issue is a 2021 executive order directing federal agencies weighing environmental permitting and regulatory decisions to consider a metric for estimating the societal costs from carbon dioxide associated with those moves. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a contentious immigration clash, agreeing to decide whether Biden’s administration can end a Trump-era policy requiring asylum seekers at the southern border to wait in Mexico for their cases to be processed. The administration rescinded Trump’s so-called “remain in Mexico” policy last year, only to have a judge order it reinstated. The Supreme Court indicated it will hear the appeal on an expedited basis, with arguments in late April, so that the justices can rule by the end of their term in late June or early July. Read more from Greg Stohr.

The U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said some recent price increases were the result of businesses “taking advantage” of the coronavirus pandemic and supply-chain disruptions to push up food costs. Food prices have soared globally in the past year as economies recover from the pandemic and amid a jump in energy and fertilizer costs and transportation delays. Read more from Ben Bartenstein.

The DOJ will argue a high school’s policy that barred a transgender student from using the boys’ bathroom violated federal law because he was a boy “socially, physically, medically, and on legal documents.” The St. John’s County School Board’s policy restricting bathroom use by “biological sex” is only valid under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution if it serves an important governmental interest, the Justice Department said in a brief in advance of oral argument before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Read more from Patrick Dorrian.

The National Labor Relations Board’s Trump-era worker classification test has resulted in a higher rate of employee wins than the broader standard set during the Obama administration, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis conducted as the board considers ditching that more recent precedent. Read more from Robert Iafolla.

To contact the reporters on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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