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Dems block Cruz’s Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill



Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked legislation from Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform Holmes Norton: Cruz effort to block DC student vaccine mandate ‘crosses the line’ The Hill’s Morning Report – For Biden, it goes from bad to worse MORE (R-Texas) to slap sanctions on businesses tied to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a win for the Biden administration, which believes such sanctions could damage relations with Germany.

Though the vote is still open, Cruz is poised to fall short of the 60 votes needed for it to pass. Democratic Sens. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSenate delays vote as DC hit by snowstorm Without people, there is no preparedness Wisconsinites need infrastructure that is built to last  MORE (Wis.), Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoVulnerable Senate Democrats see massive fundraising hauls in last quarter of 2021 Treasury rolls out quarters featuring Maya Angelou, first Black woman on the coin Eleven interesting races to watch in 2022 MORE (Nev.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanBiden’s FDA nominee advances through key Senate committee Vulnerable Senate Democrats see massive fundraising hauls in last quarter of 2021 Top Republicans pressing Hogan to run for Senate MORE (N.H.), Mark KellyMark KellyVulnerable Senate Democrats see massive fundraising hauls in last quarter of 2021 Biden to huddle with Senate Democrats as voting bill on brink of defeat Hawley introduces bill banning lawmakers from making stock trades in office MORE (Ariz.), Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenEleven interesting races to watch in 2022 First openly transgender Miss USA contestant eliminated before round of 16 Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women’s museums to be built on National Mall MORE (Nev.) and Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockDems worry they’ll be boxed out without changes to filibuster, voting rules  Pressures aligning on Biden, Democrats to forgive student loans Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster  MORE (Ga.) joined every Republican in voting for the bill. The vote has been held open at 55-43, with Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden’s desperate pitch to keep minority voters Business executives urge Senate to bypass filibuster to pass voting rights Former colleagues honor Reid in ceremony at Capitol MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzOvernight Energy & Environment — Manchin raises hopes on climate spending The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Snow day in DC Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE (D-Hawaii), who is isolating after testing positive for COVID-19, remaining as the only two senators who haven’t voted.

The vote on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will carry gas from Russia to Germany, comes at a delicate moment for White House as it navigates renewed tensions with Moscow over its buildup of troops on the border with Ukraine.  

Underscoring the dilemma for Democrats, many of whom previously voted for similar sanctions, senators stressed that they are alarmed about Russia and the pipeline, but that Cruz’s legislation isn’t the most effective response.  

“We can’t look at this legislation in isolation. This legislation … is coming at a time when the administration is exhausting every single diplomatic avenue to deter Putin from further violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” said Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDemocrats race to squash Cruz’s Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill Democrats, Cruz set for showdown over Russian pipeline Ukraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia MORE (D-N.H.), adding that the pipeline is “leverage that the West can use at a pivotal moment.” 

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats race to squash Cruz’s Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill Each state’s population center, visualized Ukraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia MORE (D-Conn.) argued that the bill would be a “gift” for Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinSullivan says threat of Russian military invasion ‘high’ Democracy is on life support — and the GOP wants to pull the plug Biden defense chief voices support for Ukraine in call MORE by dividing the United States from Germany. 

“We need to be sending a message to Vladimir Putin that the United States and Europe are together and that we are going to deliver a crushing package of sanctions if you enter Ukraine any further,” he said.

The legislation from Cruz would require sanctions to be implemented within 15 days. In a red flag for Democrats, Congress would be able to force a vote on putting the sanctions back in place if President BidenJoe BidenGallego on Jan. 6 rioters: ‘F— them’ Psaki: Why is GOP afraid of presidential debates? Biden calls on employers to mandate vaccines despite Supreme Court ruling MORE waived them.

Biden waived sanctions in May on Nord Stream 2 AG, the Russian-owned, Swiss-based company for the pipeline project, as part of an agreement published in July with Germany, which supports the pipeline. 

Democrats and the Biden administration worked overtime to squash Cruz’s effort.

Victoria Nuland, the under secretary of State for political affairs, briefed a group of potential swing vote senators this week as part of a meeting organized by Democratic senators who oppose Cruz’s legislation. Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenBlinken: North Korea missile tests ‘profoundly destabilizing’ ‘Havana syndrome’ suspected in attacks on US diplomats in Switzerland, France: report Russia-led alliance begins troop pullout from Kazakhstan MORE also briefed a bipartisan group on Ukraine, where senators are hoping to travel as soon as this weekend.  

The German government had also urged members of Congress to not slap sanctions on the pipeline, arguing that it would harm the Washington-Berlin relationship. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezOvernight Defense & National Security — Differences remain between NATO, Russia Senate Democrats unveil bill sanctioning Russia over Ukraine Democrats race to squash Cruz’s Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill MORE (D-N.J.), backed by Schumer and the White House, also offered competing legislation, giving Democrats worried about Ukraine an alternative bill to support.  

That legislation would slap new sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine, though the Ukrainian government had been publicly pushing for senators to vote for Cruz’s bill.  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a tweet, said that Ukraine “asks all its friends in the US Senate to vote for S. 3436.»  

Cruz argued that Democrats faced a decision between backing the Biden administration despite their previous support of sanctions, or helping crackdown on a pipeline that has sparked bipartisan backlash at a key moment with Russia.  

During a floor speech, he argued that his bill was the “best way to deter Putin from invading Ukraine” and that without it, “Ukraine risks getting wiped off the map.”  

“The eyes of history are upon us today. Each of us will be faced with a momentous question: Can we put petty differences aside and can we come together to defend our friend and our ally Ukraine against imminent Russian aggression?” Cruz asked.

The vote on the pipeline comes after the Biden administration carried out three separate meetings with Russian officials in Europe this week to offset a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine and outbreak of war. 

Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border in what it calls a military exercise. Moscow has said it views Ukraine’s closer ties with the West and desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a threat to its security. 

Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and has supported separatists against Kyiv in Ukraine’s east, called the Donbas region. 

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who led the U.S. delegation to the three meetings, stressed unity among allies to respond to increased Russia’s aggression with financial sanctions, defensive military assistance to Ukraine and increased force posture in Europe. 

She echoed earlier statements by Blinken that Nord Stream 2, which has yet to become operational, provides an opportunity for Europe to exert pressure over Russia.  

“The pipeline is not operational right now. The Germans’ Federal Network Agency has suspended certification.  And Secretary Blinken has said… ‘From our perspective it’s very hard to see gas flowing through [the] pipeline for it to become operational if Russia renews its aggression on Ukraine.’” 

Berlin, addressing U.S. opposition to the pipeline and concern over Russia’s control, agreed to impose costs on Moscow should it find that the Kremlin is holding energy hostage to threaten Europe or taking aggressive actions against Ukraine. 

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Actress Regina King’s son Ian Alexander Jr. has died at 26: «Our family is devastated at the deepest level»



Regina King’s 26-year-old son, Ian Alexander Jr., has died, a spokesperson for the actor confirmed Saturday morning. 

«Our family is devastated at the deepest level by the loss of Ian,» the statement read. «He is such a bright light who cared so deeply about the happiness of others. Our family asks for respectful consideration during this private time.»

Alexander Jr. — King’s only child, whom she shared with ex-husband Ian Alexander Sr. — died by suicide, a spokesperson confirmed to The Associated Press.

The two were very close, with Alexander Jr. often accompanying his mother on the red carpet. They even had matching tattoos reading «unconditional love» in Aramaic, the AP reported.

Last year, Alexander Jr. posted a tribute to his mother on her birthday, writing, «To be able to watch you take this lifetime by its neck and make it yours is something i will forever be grateful for. But to have you as my mother is the greatest gift I could ask for. To be all that you are while always having the time to be there, love and support me unconditionally is truly remarkable.»

Alexander Jr. was a DJ who went by desduné. He had just recently released a song called «Green Eyes,» which King posted about on her Instagram last week. According to Alexander Jr.’s Instagram, he had a show scheduled for January 28 in Los Angeles.

King is known for her roles in the movie «If Beale Street Could Talk» and on the television show «Watchmen.» She also directed the 2020 film «One Night in Miami…» She has won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, four Primetime Emmy Awards and two NAACP Image Awards over the course of her more than 30-year career.

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German navy chief resigns over Putin comments



Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht visits the navy base in Warnemuende, Germany, December 17, 2021. Bernd Wuestneck/Pool via REUTERS

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BERLIN, Jan 22 (Reuters) – Germany’s navy chief stepped down on Saturday after drawing criticism for saying Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved respect and that Kyiv would never win back annexed Crimea from Moscow.

«I have asked Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht to relieve me from my duties with immediate effect,» Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach said in a statement. «The minister has accepted my request.»

Schoenbach made the remarks to a think-tank discussion in India on Friday, and video was published on social media. The comments came at a sensitive time as Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders.

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Diplomatic efforts are focused on preventing an escalation. Russia denies it is planning to invade Ukraine.

In New Delhi, Schoenbach, speaking in English, said Putin seeks to be treated as an equal by the West.

«What he (Putin) really wants is respect,» Schoenbach said.

«And my God, giving someone respect is low cost, even no cost… It is easy to give him the respect he really demands – and probably also deserves,» Schoenbach said, calling Russia an old and important country.

Schoenbach conceded Russia’s actions in Ukraine needed to be addressed. But he added that «the Crimea peninsula is gone, it will never come back, this is a fact,» contradicting the joint Western position that Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 cannot be accepted and must be reversed.

Prior to Schoenbach’s resignation, the defence ministry publicly criticised his remarks, saying they did not reflect Germany’s position in either content or wording.

Schoenbach apologized for his comments.

«My rash remarks in India … are increasingly putting a strain on my office,» he said. «I consider this step (the resignation) necessary to avert further damage to the German navy, the German forces, and, in particular, the Federal Republic of Germany.»

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry had called on Germany to publicly reject the navy chief’s comments. Schoenbach’s comments could impair Western efforts to de-escalate the situation, Ukraine said in a statement.

«Ukraine is grateful to Germany for the support it has already provided since 2014, as well as for the diplomatic efforts to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict. But Germany’s current statements are disappointing and run counter to that support and effort,» Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said separately in tweet.

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Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Catherine Evans and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Butler announces retirement



Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler announced his retirement on Saturday evening in a statement released by the team.

«It is an emotional day as I announce I am retiring from my football coaching career,» said Butler. «I have spent every year since 1990 as a coach in the NFL and the NCAA, but the time is right for me to walk away after a successful career both playing and coaching the game I love.

«I want to thank the Rooney Family, Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin and all the coaches and players that I have been involved with over my entire coaching career. I look forward to spending more time with my family, whom have been so supportive of me throughout the years. I wish nothing but the best to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I will be cheering them on during my retirement.»

Butler served as the team’s defensive coordinator since being promoted to that role in January 2015. He had previously served as the team’s linebackers coach for 12 seasons from 2003-14. Butler was a part of two Super Bowl winning teams with the Steelers (Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII).

The Steelers lead, or tied for the lead, in overall sacks for the last five years under Butler, setting an NFL record in 2020 when they did it a league-high four years in a row.

In 2020 the Steelers broke an NFL record with a streak of 70 games with at least one sack, breaking the record set by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 69 straight games with at least one sack (1999-2003). The team extended the streak to 75 games, which is still the NFL record.

He came to the Steelers after an NFL coaching career that began with the Cleveland Browns (1999-2002) and before that in the college ranks at Arkansas State (1998) and Memphis (1990-97).

Butler played in the NFL for 10 seasons (1978-87) for the Seattle Seahawks.

Butler was a three-year starter at inside linebacker for the University of Memphis, leading the team in tackles his junior and senior seasons and being named as Associated Press All-American in 1977.

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