Biden’s globe-spanning foreign policy problems awaken his GOP opponents

““Ted Cruz is making it very hard on him,” Murphy said bluntly of the Texas Republican senator. “Ted Cruz is holding up every single State Department nominee right now, so the Republican strategy is to try to make it as hard as possible for President Biden to manage crises around the world.”

Cruz, who is widely considered a possible candidate in the next presidential cycle, has held up Biden’s nominees to key national-security positions. He says it’s an effort to encourage the administration to fully implement congressionally mandated sanctions for the controversial Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline known as Nord Stream II.”

“Biden has declined to fully impose those sanctions — which could have crippled the pipeline — as the German government pushes for its completion. The president has said he wants to patch up U.S. alliances with European allies like Germany, which suffered under Trump.”

Gasoline is up and GOP sees an easy target: Biden

“It’s an old tactic employed by opposition parties to blame sitting presidents when fuel prices rise on their watch — and one that Republicans unsuccessfully tried to wield against Barack Obama during a recovering economy a decade ago. This time, they are pointing to Biden’s ambitious climate change plans, his pause on leases for new oil wells on federal lands, and his cancellation of the permits for the Keystone XL pipeline as the culprits, although none of those steps have had any immediate impact on what motorists pay at the pump.

Experts largely agree that the White House usually has little to do with short-term moves in gasoline prices, which are a factor of global oil prices, U.S. refinery operations, and — especially this year — a sharp jump in demand from drivers as people emerge from lockdowns and travel resumes.

But that hasn’t kept the narrative from spreading across conservative media, where pundits are drawing comparisons to the Jimmy Carter administration, and trickling down to viral social media posts pinning gas prices to Biden’s climate agenda.”

US and Germany have Nord Stream 2 deal, but lack authority to implement it

“A day after the U.S. and Germany announced a deal allowing the completion of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, top officials conceded that neither the White House nor the Chancellery have the authority to implement some of its most crucial components.

As a huge outcry went up from opponents of the Russia-led pipeline project, Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged that her agreement with President Joe Biden hardly settled their political disagreements, and that much remained uncertain.

“The agreement with the U.S. government does not cement the differences, but it does not overcome all differences either,” Merkel said at a news conference. “The differences remain.” Of the deal, she added: “It is an attempt between the U.S. government and us to set certain conditions that also have to be implemented.

“I am glad that we have succeeded so far,” Merkel continued. “And we also have a lot of tasks ahead.”

Those tasks are hardly small and include overcoming fierce opposition from some members of the United States Congress, persuading some extremely dubious EU countries to get on board, and convincing Russia to liberalize its energy sector, divest itself of the €9.5 billion pipeline, and pay Ukraine some additional €20 billion through 2034 to make up for the loss of gas transit fees — which the new pipeline would effectively render unnecessary.

While some influential Germans — notably former chancellor and current Nord Stream 2 chairman of the board Gerhard Schröder — have been instrumental in securing the pipeline’s completion, Berlin may have little to no influence over Moscow once construction is done and gas is flowing.

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat on the foreign relations committee who co-authored U.S. sanctions legislation targeting the pipeline, said she was “skeptical” of the deal given that “the key player at the table — Russia — refuses to play by the rules.””

Gas Prices Were Lower Last Year Because Last Year Was Really, Really Awful

“why might gasoline prices have been lower a year ago? Thanks to former President Donald Trump’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. GDP decreased at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020. In addition, the national unemployment rate in May 2020 stood at 16.3 percent. Americans without jobs and income were less inclined to travel. While the AAA estimated a record 43 million Americans hit the road during Memorial Day weekend in 2019, only 23 million traveled in 2020. Demand for gasoline was impacted by the fact that total vehicle miles traveled in 2020 fell by 13.2 percent, the lowest level in two decades.”

“The Biden administration issued a press statement asserting that Americans “are paying less in real terms for gas than they have on average over the last 15 years—and they’re paying about the same as they did in May 2018 and May 2019.” In fact, that’s about right. According to Energy Information Administration data, the average prices of gasoline were $2.96 and $2.82 in the last weeks of May 2018 and May 2019, respectively.”

“it is quite remarkable that the annual inflation-adjusted price of gas since 1978 has hovered in a narrow range from a high of $2.438 (1978 and 1979, the second oil shock) to a low of $2.242 (the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic).”

How One European Pipeline Is Derailing Biden’s ‘America Is Back’ Promise

“The issue is the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is slated to bring up to 55 billion cubic meters a year of natural gas from Russia to Germany and is within a few months of completion. A bipartisan coalition in Congress aims to thwart what it views as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s drive to acquire political leverage over Europe by hooking it on Russian gas. Now, lawmakers are pressuring the Biden administration to implement the sanctions they already passed.”

“Biden himself has said that the pipeline is “a bad deal for Europe” but is reportedly reluctant to move forward with sanctions that would affect a critical ally. In the face of Congressional demands for maximal action that will kill the pipeline — an outcome that may not even be possible — senior aides are searching for a measure that would get Congress off the boil without causing a breach with Berlin.
If no middle position can be found, and the administration capitulates to Congress, one senior Berlin official worries, the result may be “a major portion of the CDU/CSU [the allied Christian Democrats and Bavarian Christian Social Union] turning against the U.S.” Germany’s center-right coalition has held the chancellery for all but 20 of the postwar German republic’s 72 years in existence. Such a breach with what has arguably been the most consistently pro-American party in Europe, the official adds, “hasn’t happened in the history of this republic.” The insult to Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Trump singled out for particularly offensive treatment and who is now coming to the end of her 16-year tenure, would be unforgettable.”

“Russia may richly deserve the punitive treatment, but whatever damage a new round of sanctions implementation will inflict on Russia will be relatively minor compared to the harm to the U.S.-German bilateral relationship at a genuinely critical moment. Washington is looking to Europe — with Germany in the lead — to craft complementary policies to manage an emboldened China. On issues like setting standards and regulating the cyber world, only a U.S.-European effort could block Chinese ambitions. Washington also hopes Germany and its EU partners will help stop Chinese efforts to control a range of international agencies and provide a united front on Chinese human rights abuses. Breathing new life into NATO, revitalizing the Iran nuclear deal and, ironically, managing Vladimir Putin are other areas where German support will be essential.”

“Congress is so determined to whack Russia that it is threatening to undermine the very transatlantic alliances that are essential for countering Russia over the long-term. But that is the result of Capitol Hill’s trouble with setting priorities and an ingrained bad habit — specifically, the habit of slapping on sanctions whenever it doesn’t like something. American legislators appear to have forgotten that so-called “secondary” or “extraterritorial” sanctions, which affect not only countries that have done things that are wrong (Russia invading and annexing Crimea) but also countries that have done things within their rights (doing business with Russia), are considered by the rest of the world to be a violation of international law.”

“the case that sanctions advocates make is questionable at best. The notion that Putin will ensnare Europe in an energy stranglehold is far-fetched. Europe has been diversifying its energy sources for decades and now receives less than 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia, down from 80 percent in 1990. There is also little evidence that Germany’s substantial Russian gas imports over decades have affected Germany policies toward Russia. Nothing stopped Chancellor Angela Merkel from taking the lead in criticizing Moscow for the poisoning of Navalny, who was flown to Berlin, where he recuperated. (Trump questioned whether the Russian government was behind the poisoning.) Nor can Germany be accused of weakness when it comes to the sanctions related to Russia’s annexation of Crimea or occupation of eastern Ukraine.
In recent years, German natural gas consumption has fluctuated in a small band, and while it may grow as nuclear energy and coal are phased out, that will be offset to a significant degree by the rapid growth in renewable energy. Germany is a global leader in the field with renewables comprising 18 percent of total energy consumption and powering more than 45 percent of electricity generation. Moreover, a completed Nord Stream 2 would likely not mean substantially greater exports of Russian gas to Europe. It would just mean that less gas comes to Europe in pipelines that transit Ukraine, Belarus and Poland. (Concern about diminished gas transit fees have led Ukraine and Poland to be among the vociferous lobbyists for killing Nord Stream 2.)

Against this backdrop and with ample historical experience, the Germans plausibly argue that they will not be in the thrall of the Kremlin. The key dependence, they argue, will run in the other direction, with an economically ramshackle Russia urgently needing euro payments for its gas, a point endorsed by experts such as Eugene Rumer, the former top U.S. intelligence community Russia watcher.

There are ways to achieve a solution with Germany that will avoid a train wreck. Many German politicians — including Greens who hate to see more fossil fuels flowing into the country and policymakers who hate having any business with Russia — think the pipeline was a dumb idea from the start, but relations with the Trump administration were too toxic to sort things out, and the project is now too close to completion to abandon. There is ample room for negotiation.

Former German Ambassador to the U.S. Wolfgang Ischinger has suggested that Germany make the flow of gas conditional on improvements in Russian behavior. Responding to the argument that Russia will divert gas that now transits Ukraine to Nord Stream 2 and starve that country of much-needed transit fees, Steven Pifer, who served as U.S. envoy to Ukraine, argues for insisting on a Russian guarantee that it will continue pumping at least 40 billion cubic meters of gas through Ukraine, as it is now doing, beyond 2024, when the current deal runs out. No doubt there are other possible approaches as well.

What there is no substitute for in global politics is a strengthened transatlantic alliance — historically the most important for American statecraft — and that is something that won’t happen if the strongest country in Europe, Germany, feels dissed.”