Nov. 13 (Bloomberg) — The Louisiana election runoff is
coming to Capitol Hill with Republicans and Democrats scheduling
votes on the Keystone XL pipeline, as each party seeks to clinch
the last undecided U.S. Senate seat.
The House plans today to begin considering a bill sponsored
by Republican Representative Bill Cassidy, who is in a Dec. 6
runoff against Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu. After a request
by Landrieu, the Senate scheduled a vote as soon as Nov. 18 on
an identical proposal to bypass President Barack Obama and set
the $8 billion pipeline project in motion.
Keystone has been a central issue in the Louisiana contest,
with both candidates highlighting their support for it. Landrieu
has focused on the pipeline as a way to distinguish herself from
Obama, who lost Louisiana in 2012, and to proclaim backing for
an energy industry that provides thousands of jobs in the state.
Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, said legislation to
override the pipeline review process wouldn’t be welcomed at the
“The administration, as you know, has taken a dim view of
these kinds of legislative proposals in the past,” Earnest told
reporters today in Myanmar, where Obama is attending a summit.
In the past, he said, “We have indicated that the president’s
senior advisers at the White House would recommend that he veto
legislation like that.”
“I think it’s fair to say that our dim view of these kinds
of proposals has not changed,” he said, according to a
Nevertheless, a vote on House passage probably will occur
tomorrow, a House Republican leadership aide said on condition
“I believe it is time to act,” said Landrieu, who polls
show is trailing Cassidy ahead of the contest. “I believe we
should take the new majority leader at his word and stop
blocking legislation that is broadly supported by the public and
has been for some time.”
Before the election, Keystone supporters said they were
just a few votes short of the 60 needed to advance the bill in
For Landrieu, the calculus is that the opportunity to
showcase her legislative skills to voters — just weeks before
the Senate runoff — will be enough to persuade a few more
Democratic colleagues to join her in supporting Keystone.
Landrieu pushed for the vote as Congress convened a lame-duck session yesterday after Republicans won control of the
Senate in the Nov. 4 election. Republicans have picked up eight
seats so far, while the Louisiana race goes to a runoff because
neither she nor Cassidy, 57, won a majority.
Although supporters of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone project
have been shy of the needed Senate votes, Landrieu said
yesterday she was “confident that we have the additional votes
necessary to pass it” this time. The Senate is run by Democrats
until the end of the year.
The Republican-led House has passed similar Keystone
measures by broad majorities. Cassidy said that he hoped the
Senate would “do the right thing” and pass the legislation.
“After six years, it’s time to build,” he said in a
A Senate Democratic aide said supporters had lined up 13 to
14 Democratic votes for the proposal. At least 15 Democrats
would have to vote in favor of the bill if all 45 of the
chamber’s Republicans support it.
Even if both chambers passed the measure, Obama still could
veto it. A veto would require 67 votes to override, a threshold
Keystone supporters probably can’t overcome.
Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, said the pipeline is “obviously an important
issue” for Landrieu with the runoff election coming up.
Landrieu, 58, chairwoman of the Energy and Natural
Resources Committee, in her campaign has sought to distance
herself from Obama on energy issues, including his delay in
approving the pipeline.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party’s
Senate campaign arm, issued a statement calling Landrieu “the
most ineffective energy chair ever.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who
is poised to become majority leader in January, has said he
would support giving Cassidy a seat on the energy panel if he
wins the Louisiana runoff.
Political analysts said they doubted a vote on Keystone
would provide much of a boost in Louisiana.
“The people she needs to turn out for her in the runoff
will not be influenced by a token vote by a few of her
colleagues,” said Ross Baker, political science professor at
Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Even if Landrieu is re-elected, she will lose her position
as chairwoman of the energy committee when Republicans take
control of the Senate in January.
While the Louisiana campaign hung over the debate in
Congress yesterday, Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican,
said his party wouldn’t stand in the way of the measure.
“It seems to be a ‘Hail Mary’ pass in an effort to try to
save Mary Landrieu’s Senate seat in Louisiana, and it seems like
a desperate act,” Barrasso said in an interview.
If the measure dies in this Congress, it probably will have
more success in the next one when Republicans take over the
Senate. McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio
Republican, have said Keystone approval would be a top
legislative priority in 2015.
In the lead-up to a possible vote on Keystone earlier this
year, backers sought to win over six Democrats who had
previously supported a non-binding resolution in a March 2013
vote. They didn’t get the 60 votes necessary to pass a bill.
Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican who’s a co-sponsor of the pro-Keystone legislation, said before the
election that he was still three votes short.
Some Democrats could conceivably switch to support
Landrieu, though they’d be undercutting Obama, who has said the
administration’s review process on Keystone should be allowed to
Landrieu, along with Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia
Democrat, co-authored legislation that would let Calgary-based
TransCanada build and operate the Canada-to-U.S. oil pipeline.
Landrieu’s panel approved the measure on June 18.
Although Democrats have already lost their Senate majority,
they want to retain as many seats as possible, in part to aid
their effort to regain control in two years. Republicans will be
defending at least 22 seats in 2016, compared with nine for
“It’s interesting when you see the price of the Keystone
XL pipeline is a threatened Senate seat when Democrats have lost
seats all across the country,” Barrasso said.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Nov. 6 that the White
House would consider legislation approving Keystone, though he
demurred on a question of whether a bill would prompt a veto.
One thing is more clear: Environmental groups that spent
record amounts of money in a losing effort to protect the
Democratic Senate majority likely would oppose any vote on a
project they consider a threat to the climate.
“We’ve had the votes in the past and we’re doing
everything in our power to make sure folks vote against it,”
Anthony Swift, an international attorney at the Natural
Resources Defense Council, said in a phone interview.
The pipeline has been under review by the State Department
for six years. The agency has jurisdiction because the project
would cross an international border, though Obama has said he’ll
make the final call.
Keystone XL would transport Alberta’s heavy crude to
refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast. Environmental groups say it
would encourage development of the carbon-heavy oil sands.
Supporters say it would create thousands of jobs and increase
North American energy security.
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Jodi Schneider at
Jon Morgan, Steve Geimann