Republicans blasted Democrats for a "strategic decision" to let the Keystone XL pipeline fall just one vote shy of the 60 needed to pass the Senate on Tuesday, but vowed that the $8 billion project would be approved when the GOP controls Congress in January.
"There was a lot of chatter about the fact that getting to 59 would be fine, as long as it didn't get to 60," Sen. Tim Scott told Newsmax after the vote. "It seemed like there was a concerted effort to figure out which Democrats would join 100 percent of the Republicans to get to the 59, but not have enough to get to 60.
"Unfortunately, that strategy worked," the South Carolina Republican said. "It is very unfortunate that people decided to play politics with such an important issue, such a job-creating opportunity as the Keystone pipeline."
But regardless of how the Democrats played Tuesday's vote, Sen. John Hoeven said passing Keystone is a forgone conclusion in the next Congress.
"We'll either have something the president doesn't veto, or we'll get to the 67 to make sure it's veto-proof," the North Dakota Republican told Newsmax, noting the number of upper-chamber votes needed to override any rejection by President Barack Obama.
Hoeven co-sponsored the legislation with embattled Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who faces a bitter Dec. 6 runoff election against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.
"In the end, we're going to get it on the merits," Hoeven said. "We're going to get it, even if we have to get to 67. The public overwhelmingly supports it."
The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 59-41, falling just one vote short of what was needed to clear the bill that was passed Friday by the House of Representatives.
The defeat dealt a crushing blow to Landrieu, who had hoped to secure Keystone's passage to boost her chances against Cassidy in the runoff.
All 45 Republicans backed the pipeline, which was proposed by TransCanada Corp. and would carry oil sands from Canada to refineries in Texas.
Only 14 of 55 Democrats and two independents joined the Republicans. That reality never changed, despite Landrieu's appeals behind closed doors just hours before the vote.
"I'm going to fight for the people of my state until the day that I leave, and I hope that will not be soon," Landrieu said after the vote.
Cassidy, who sponsored the House legislation
, said Tuesday that Bayou State families "need better jobs, better wages and better benefits" that would result from Keystone.
Polls show Cassidy ahead of Landrieu. A Republican victory would bring to nine the net number of Democratic Senate seats captured by the GOP in the Nov. 4 elections.
The Keystone vote was one of the last acts of a Senate controlled by the Democrats. Congress began its lame-duck session last week and is expected to finish by mid-December.
The pipeline would span 1,179 miles, traveling through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines and carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to the Texas refineries.
TransCanada proposed it in 2008. The most recent delay was caused by a lawsuit filed in Nebraska over its proposed route.
The delays have caused friction between the U.S. and Canada, which is interested in exporting its growing oil sands production.
Republican reaction to Tuesday's vote was virulent.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell charged that Democrats "once again stood in the way of a shovel-ready jobs project that would help thousands of Americans find work."
The Kentucky senator, who will supplant Nevada Sen. Harry Reid as majority leader in the new Congress, called the Democrat's position "a remarkable stance after an election in which the American people sent a clear message to Congress to approve serious policies like the Keystone XL Pipeline and get the Senate working again.
"Unfortunately, many Senate Democrats failed to hear that message," McConnell said.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, vowed that "this isn't over."
"The Keystone XL pipeline will be a top priority next year for the new majority," she said. "It's been over six years that this project has been under review — that's more than enough time for President Obama to make a decision."
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman called the project "a no-brainer."
"The Keystone pipeline is a major infrastructure project in the United States that will create tens of thousands of jobs, boost our nation's manufacturing sector, and enhance our national security by improving our energy security," he said. "I look forward to its passage when Republicans control the Senate."
Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe charged that "the senators who voted against the Keystone XL Pipeline had an opportunity to stand for job creation, energy independence, and national security — but failed to lead the way."
Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said that Tuesday's vote "underscores the importance of a Senate Republican majority that will listen to the American people."
In his Newsmax interview, Hoeven readily acknowledged that Keystone's approval in the next Congress will set up a showdown with Obama, who has long questioned GOP claims that the project will create thousands of jobs and bolster the nation's energy resources.
"Oh, there'll be one. That's coming," Hoeven said. "That's why I've said that we're going to be at it in the new Congress.
"And really, this is a test case to see if he'll work with us," Hoeven added. "This is a good example of a bipartisan vote in this Congress to approve legislation — and seeing if the president will work with us. That's what the American people want, and they said that in the last election."
Tuesday's vote laid bare Democratic opposition to the pipeline.
Before the vote, 14 Democrats had said publicly that they would support the bill, but several whom Landrieu had heavily lobbied for the critical 60th vote did not step forward.
Among retiring lawmakers, Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Tom Harkin of Iowa all said in advance that they would oppose the bill.
Representatives for three other Democrats — Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Bill Nelson of Florida — told Newsmax on Friday that they would not back Keystone.
Sen. Angus King, the Maine Independent who opened the door on Monday to becoming the 60th vote, slammed it tight just hours later.
In debate on the Senate floor Tuesday, California Sen. Barbara Boxer slammed the project, saying the "XL" in the pipeline's name stood for "extra-lethal."
"Let's stop the hypocrisy here," she said. "We should work together for a clean-energy future."
But Hoeven remained defiant amid the criticism.
"It doesn't help to have Democrats voting against it," he told Newsmax. "Special interests oppose the project, but the American public supports the project."
The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
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