A vote on Putin’s pipeline

The rush to keep the lights on in government comes with a geopolitical headache. An amendment attached to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act by Senator Jim Risch would introduce sanctions on the operator of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

This leaves many Democratic senators in a bind. The initial sanctions were a bipartisan effort. Opposition to Nord Stream 2, a direct pipeline from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, on the grounds that it would increase European dependency on Russian gas has long been a point of consensus in Washington. But the Biden administration has waived sanctions and accepted the pipeline as, to quote Antony Blinken, “a fait accompli.”

Hence why Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been scrambling to avoid a vote on the amendment, which threatens to put the White House at odds with the Democratic-controlled Congress on a major foreign policy decision. But Axios reports that a late Tuesday night deal to “hotline” amendments to the legislation includes the Nord Stream amendment. And this puts some, like Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire who wrote the original Nord Stream 2 sanctions, in an unenviable position of choosing between the preferred foreign policy of a Democratic president and her longstanding opposition to the pipeline.

The Nord Stream row makes clear that — to put it generously — the devil is in the detail when it comes to Biden’s “America is back” foreign policy. The president acceded to the construction and operation of Nord Stream 2 to help repair US relations with Germany. Berlin has warned that Nord Stream 2 would “weaken” US credibility and “ultimately damage transatlantic unity.”

But other American allies are less than thrilled with Biden’s soft stance on the pipeline Ukraine is at the top of that list. Nord Stream 2 would reduce Russian dependency on exports through Ukraine, which would badly hurt the Ukrainian economy. It would also reduce Russian disincentives to invade. The immediacy of that issue is underscored by the massive army Putin has amassed on the Ukrainian border. The UK, America’s closest ally, is one of a number of Western countries that has taken a hardline anti-Nord Stream stance.

Does “America is back” mean standing up to Russia? You might assume so, but on Nord Stream 2, the opposite appears to be the case. We will be watching the Senate closely today, looking for signs of whether Democratic senators agree.

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Kirn corrected

In an interview published in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, the conservative novelist Walter Kirn claimed that he was canceled by Harper’s magazine in 2012 shortly after writing a column titled “Illiberal Values”. The publication, he claimed, terminated his contract in a “one-minute phone call” in which Kirn claims he was not allowed to speak.

It struck me as a surprising claim. Harper’s, though an unapologetically left-wing publication, is admirably heterodox. It is home to a wide range of writers. Last summer, it made headlines with the eponymous “Harper’s letter”, which was signed by dozens of prominent cultural figures and made the kind of liberal defense of free speech that has grown unfashionable on the contemporary left. Heck, its publisher, John R. MacArthur, even writes for The Spectator from time to time.

And so it was reassuring to see a letter from MacArthur in this morning’s Journal setting the record straight. “In fact,” says MacArthur of Kirn’s claim of cancellation, “we did not renew his contract — after he wrote two more columns — because his copy was consistently late and he was complaining about a crushing book deadline. Both he and the magazine agreed that he should take a break from writing the column and finish book.” Let that be a warning to any Spectator columnists reading: write what you like, just write it on time…

A brush with history

DC Diary readers are, I assume, a politically engaged bunch. And so it seems a decent guess that some of you might be interested in a piece of the past for sale at Alexandria Auctions. To be a bit more specific, you can buy a lock of George Washington’s hair (albeit a very tiny lock) and at the moment the highest bid is a very reasonably $233. According to a letter of certification that comes with the strand of hair, the first owner was likely Eleanor Parke Custis, the granddaughter of Martha Washington by her first marriage. Get bidding: you have until 7 p.m. tonight.

Loopy Lara Logan

Anthony Fauci comes in for much criticism these days (and most of it is warranted). But Lara Logan of Fox News has taken these complaints to their offensive extreme by comparing the NIH chief to Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who performed grim, often deadly, experiments on Auschwitz prisoners. As Cockburn reports, Logan is yet to apologize for her comments. In fact, she appears to be doubling down. This morning she has been tweeting incessantly about NIH AIDS drug trials on foster children in the 1980s. That may be a controversy worth examining, but, needless to say, it hardly warrants Logan’s appalling analogy.

What you should be reading today

Alex Perez: Latinas are the shape of things to come
Rachel K. Paulose: What to expect from the Maxwell trial
Daniel DePetris: Biden’s Pentagon wants to keep the military overstretched
Will Self, Harper’s: How everything became trauma
Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg Opinion: Texas looks to its future to guide its past
Jason Bordoff and Meghan L. O’Sullivan, Foreign Affairs: Green upheaval

Poll watch

President Biden Job Approval
Approve: 41.9 percent
Disapprove: 52.4 percent
Net approval: -10.5 (RCP Average)

Share of US adults who said the following measures are important to ensure public safety in light of the Omicron variant:
Strengthening ventilation systems: 81 percent
Social distancing: 79 percent
Travel restrictions: 78 percent
Supporting efforts to provide vaccines to low-income countries: 76 percent
Vaccine requirements: 68 percent
Closure of businesses and government facilities: 44 percent (Morning Consult)

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