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‘Yes or no?’ Briefing gets testy when reporter calls out State Dept spox for taking credit for Trump actions

State Department spokesman Ned Price was called out Monday for trying to credit the Biden administration for a policy started by the Trump administration.

Proving that journalists may have occasional moments of clarity, Associated Press reporter Matt Lee was surprisingly aggressive in taking Price to task for touting the administration’s efforts to scale back the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany.

Speaking on 18 different companies making “good-faith efforts to wind down” their involvement with the project, according to the New York Post, Price would add, “This demonstrates that the legislative goals and our actions are having a good effect.”

The problem being that U.S. opposition to the project dates back to former President Donald Trump’s time in office, the paper noted, and Lee wasn’t about to let Price get away with it.

“You guys have only been in office for a month, right? Are you telling me that in the last four weeks these 18 companies all of the sudden decided to say, ‘Oh my God! We better not do anything with Nord Stream 2,” Lee said. “You guys are taking credit for stuff the previous administration did. Yes or no?”

“I am speaking for the Department of State,” Price countered. “The people who have been working this, the people who are working this now were the same people a month ago, were the same people three months ago.”

Reportedly the first openly gay spokesperson for the State Department, Price was clearly flustered — when working in the Obama White House, then-deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said Price was “the most unflappable spokesperson I worked with.”

On Friday, the Biden administration added a layer of sanctions to a Russian vessel and the shipowner for their work on the Nord Stream 2 project, Fox News reported.

More from the network:

Senior Republican lawmakers criticized the move as inadequate, noting that the administration had not penalized any additional companies or individuals for work on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. They also said the new sanctions were redundant as they duplicate existing penalties that the Trump administration had imposed on the pipelaying ship Fortuna and its owner KVT-RUS in January.

 

If completed, the pipeline would ship Russian natural gas to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. It would double the amount of natural gas being imported, according to Fox News, leaving Europe more dependent on Russian energy than ever before.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member, criticized the Biden administration on Friday for essentially punting, as their actions were characterized by Foreign Policy, allowing the project to continue for now.

“I am deeply troubled and disappointed by the State Department’s report on Nord Stream 2 activities and their decision to forgo additional sanctions on other entities involved in its construction,” Risch said. “Congress has passed multiple bipartisan laws regarding this project, and specifically broadened the mandatory sanctions to include the types of pipe-laying activities occurring right now. The administration’s decision to ignore these activities demands an immediate explanation.”

His statement called the State Department’s report on the issue “misleading.”

“This report provided us with the names of two Russian entities that are currently engaged in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, as well as the names of 18 entities that have ended their involvement in the project’s construction,” the senator said. “It was the State Department under the Trump Administration that conducted the extensive diplomatic outreach, which ultimately saw these 18 entities wind down their activities in support of the pipeline’s construction.

Risch noted that Friday’s announced sanctions had been imposed in January by the Trump administration, adding: “This report fails to clarify what additional steps the Biden Administration has taken to fully implement the law and end this project.”

Tom Tillison

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