Even if Mary Landrieu is able to win passage of her Senate bill tonight to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, analysts said it may not be enough to affect the outcome of her re-election bid.
Scheduling the vote set off another round of lobbying on a project that TransCanada Corp. first proposed more than six years ago. That includes lobbying by Landrieu herself, who was targeting retiring senators in an effort to nail down the 60th vote needed to pass the measure. “I feel very comfortable” it will get enough votes, CNN quoted her as saying late yesterday.
While a victory would force President Barack Obama to weigh in on Keystone earlier than he wants, Landrieu, a three-term Louisiana Democrat, is looking for a chance to showcase the influence she can wield in Washington.
“Senator Landrieu is in an extremely vulnerable and difficult electoral situation,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.
She has trailed in polls in advance of a Dec. 6 runoff with Republican Representative Bill Cassidy, and party leaders have said the Keystone vote is intended to help her win re-election. Louisiana is the last undecided Senate race from the Nov. 4 election in which Republicans picked up enough seats to gain control beginning in January.
“I think Landrieu is in a tough race before Keystone. I think she’s in a tough race after Keystone,” Gonzales said. “I don’t think it fundamentally changes the dynamics of the race.”
Bill co-sponsor Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, said in an interview yesterday there were 59 firm votes in favor of the bill and a few more potential votes.
Today on the Senate floor, Hoeven said he hopes to have the 60 votes needed for passage. “We’ll find out this evening when we vote,” he said.
The House passed, 252-161, an identical bill last week sponsored by Cassidy -- the ninth time such a measure has passed the House. Democratic leaders have previously refused to allow a vote in the Senate.
Landrieu’s effort was undercut by criticism Obama directed at the project last week when he disparaged supporters’ argument that the pipeline would be a major job producer and said the oil transported through the pipeline would end up being exported. Calgary-based TransCanada proposed the line in 2008 as a way to move oil sands crude from Alberta to refineries along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called tonight’s vote long overdue and said Obama’s comments were “not helpful.”
House Speaker John Boehner told reporters today that the Keystone pipeline measure is “overwhelmingly popular” among the public and that a presidential veto “would be the equivalent of calling the American people stupid.”
While the White House has stopped short of issuing a veto threat, Tiernan Sittenfeld, vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, said she doesn’t think Obama will let Congress supersede his administration’s review, now in progress.
“We feel very confident that President Obama will veto it if it comes to that,” she said in a phone interview. She said the pipeline doesn’t fit with Obama’s bid to build a legacy on climate change, including an agreement reached last week with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Nevertheless, Sittenfeld said Keystone’s critics were “going all out to ensure we stop this bill in its tracks” and keep as many Democrats from crossing over as possible.
Sabrina Fang, a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group that includes Exxon Mobil Corp., said the group was reaching out to lawmakers and encouraging oil industry workers and other supporters to urge senators to pass the bill.
“The reality is we’re going to need more infrastructure in this country,” Jack Gerard, chief executive of the oil group, said on Bloomberg Television today. “We need to get the government out of the way and get the politics out of the energy here.”
Heritage Action for America, a Washington-based lobbying group that promotes conservative public policies, said it would include members’ votes on the bill in its legislative scorecards for the 2016 elections.
For Obama, the push comes after a disastrous election in which Republicans gained control of the Senate and expanded their majority in the House. Republicans have said one of their first actions next year will be to pass a Keystone bill if they fail this year.
Obama has deflected efforts to force a decision on Keystone, saying a State Department review should be allowed to proceed. The department is studying the project because it crosses an international border.
The agency has suspended its review until a court challenge in Nebraska over the route’s path in that state is settled. While Obama has been critical of arguments voiced by supporters, he hasn’t said explicitly that he would veto the bill or if he intends to reject the pipeline.
Aides to four Senate Democrats whose votes have been courted by Keystone supporters said yesterday that the lawmakers -- Chris Coons of Delaware, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Mark Udall of Colorado and Tim Johnson of South Dakota -- would oppose the bill, shrinking the reservoir of available support.
Coons “believes it’s the administration’s decision to make and that it’s not Congress’s job to issue construction permits,” said his spokesman, Ian Koski. “He’s incredibly frustrated by how long it’s taking the administration to make this decision, but he plans to vote against the straight authorization the Senate will consider.”
Among the uncommitted senators being courted was Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. He told reporters yesterday he was a “probable no.”
“This is the U.S. Congress, so we take nothing for granted,” Joshua Saks, legislative director for the National Wildlife Federation, said in a phone interview. “But it looks like Senator Landrieu is going to have a hard time finding that 60th vote.”
Saks said the environmental group has spoken with some senators’ aides who had questions about the process for approving cross-border pipelines and whether most of the oil shipped through Keystone would be exported.
All 45 of the current Senate Republicans have said they support Landrieu’s measure, meaning at least 15 Democratic votes are needed. The president has 10 days to veto legislation once Congress sends it to him.
Obama has vetoed two bills, both in 2010, fewer than any president since Abraham Lincoln, except for James A. Garfield, who only served six months before being assassinated.
Next year, when Republicans control the Senate, Keystone supporters will have an advantage though will still be short of the 67 votes needed to override a veto, unless Democrats defect in significant numbers.
A victory for Cassidy would bring to nine the net number of Democratic Senate seats captured by Republicans this year. Cassidy has sought to tie Landrieu to Obama.
Landrieu, chairwoman of the Senate energy committee, has campaigned in Louisiana on her influence in Washington and willingness to stand up to Obama on the pipeline and other issues that could aid her oil-rich state.
“Getting a vote on Keystone is supposed to show voters what her seniority and position on the Energy Committee is worth,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the Cook Political Report. “Ultimately, it probably won’t make much of a difference for Landrieu. This race is still about President Obama.”
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