Senate Democrats in Difficult Spot Over Keystone XL Pipeline

Thursday, 01 May 2014 01:07 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Senate Democrats are finding themselves in a tough place when it comes to a long-awaited approval for the Keystone XL pipeline.

On one hand, reports The Wall Street Journal, Democrats in energy-industry states like Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana are pushing for the Senate to vote on pipeline, which would put pressure on President Barack Obama to make a decision on the structure that would span the country, stretching from Canada's oil fields down to the Gulf Coast refineries.

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However, scheduling a vote could create a split in the party, which is divided between senators like Landrieu on one side and Democrats who lean toward environmental issues on the other. And while Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has said he's open to a vote on the pipeline, he would have to decide on whether to make it a binding measure and force the Obama administration to take action — or if the vote would just be a resolution of support for the pipeline, a decision sure to draw ire from environmentalists who oppose it.

There is a third possibility: tying the Keystone XL vote onto a separate deal, such as an energy-efficiency bill that's being presented by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.

On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said any vote would be close, but Democrats "have made a decision that we do some kind of separate vote on Keystone."

If Democratic leaders avoid a vote, Republicans could use the decision as ammunition in the November midterm elections to argue that Democrats aren't serious about creating jobs. In addition, if enough people vote for the pipeline, it could help Landrieu's difficult re-election campaign, but if the vote goes against Keystone XL, her opponents could use it to argue that she has not helped industry.

The Obama administration on Wednesday said it is willing to wait for the State Department to finish its review of the pipeline — which is required by law because it would be built across the nation's border — before it makes its decision final.

"This has to be run by the book, which is why the State Department is running the process on Keystone — has long been the case, again, through administrations of both parties," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "And what we've seen in the past when Congress has passed legislation, it has actually slowed the process down. So we believe that this has to be run by the book outside of politics, and that's the way it's being run."

The pipeline project has been undergoing review for more than five years. The Senate has already voted twice to support it — including in March 2013, when 17 Democrats joined with Republicans to support the measure in a 62-37 nonbinding vote.

And a year earlier, 11 Democrats joined with Republicans to vote for the pipeline. The measure needed 60 votes to pass, but came in at 56-42.

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