President Joe Biden's Democratic Party on Thursday defeated a Senate bid to impose immediate sanctions on a Russian pipeline to Germany, fearing setting back diplomacy to prevent Moscow from invading Ukraine.
Mostly along party lines, the Senate failed to muster the required 60 votes to pass a bill by Republican Ted Cruz that would slap stiff US financial penalties on the companies behind Nord Stream 2, which is ready to begin operations.
With tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed at the Ukrainian border, Cruz said that Putin had only been deterred in the past by the need for lucrative gas to transit through Ukraine on the way to Europe.
"If we don't come together today, Ukraine risks getting wiped off the map altogether," said Cruz, who acknowledged the votes came up short before the close of the session.
Congress already sought to block Nord Stream 2 through a 2017 law but former president Donald Trump implemented few sanctions, a course followed by Biden who said it was too late to stop the pipeline.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who worked with Cruz on the 2017 act, agreed with the Biden administration that sanctions would not jeopardize an agreement with Germany which threatened to stop the pipeline if Russia pressures Ukraine.
The prospect of Germany taking action serves as "leverage that the West can use at a pivotal moment as Vladimir Putin is thinking about what he's going to do in Ukraine," Shaheen said.
"We can't use yesterday's solutions to help us solve today's problems," she said.
"Supporting his bill would be a vote to compromise transatlantic unity. It is a vote that breaks the message of bipartisan support in the face of Russian aggression."
Cruz dismissed the argument, saying, "Do we care about transatlantic unity with those countries that are begging us to show the courage to stand up to Vladimir Putin?"
Ukraine, as well as other Eastern European nations formerly under Soviet domination, have strongly opposed the pipeline.
Democrats narrowly control the Senate, but Cruz was allowed a vote in a deal in which he ended a months-long blockade on Biden's nominations in foreign policy.
Democrats on Wednesday came up with their own bill that threatens stiff sanctions on Putin, his inner circle and Russian banks and would allocate another $500 million in military aid to Ukraine if Moscow invades.
The Kremlin warned Thursday that sanctions that personally target Putin could lead to a "rupture of ties" with the United States.