Republican leaders vowed Tuesday to take up and pass a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline in Congress again next year if the Senate fails to advance the measure, or President Barack Obama vetoes it.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will become the majority leader in January, called on Democrats to vote for the bill, which is supported by all 45 Senate Republicans. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., was still searching for the last vote needed to advance the measure, but said on the floor Tuesday she "knew in her heart" she had the 60 votes.
The House passed a bill last week spearheaded by her rival, Louisiana Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, the ninth time that chamber has tried to jumpstart the pipeline's construction. Landrieu faces an uphill fight to hold on to her Senate seat in a Dec. 6 runoff against Cassidy.
"I wish the Senate would have followed the lead of Congressman Cassidy and his House colleagues in approving Keystone years ago. It's just common sense," McConnell said. "And if not, a new majority will be taking this matter up and sending it to the president. "
The issue has taken center stage in the waning days of this Congress in the hopes it will boost the prospects of Louisiana's Senate candidates. Supporters of the bill seemed to have 59 votes to advance it, but were still looking for a 60th. Maine independent Angus King left the possibility open on Monday when he said he was a "probable no."
The vote puts pressure on Obama to approve the pipeline, which he has resisted in the past. Environmentalists have pressed Obama to reject the pipeline as proof of his commitment to curb global warming, even though a State Department environmental review said it would not worsen the problem. The oil industry, labor unions and Republicans have called on Obama to approve it says it would create jobs and reduce imports from the Middle East.
"Today we will have that debate again and I hope at the end of the day we will have 60 votes we need," said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., the lead sponsor of the bill as he opened debate on the bill Tuesday. "The time has come to act and that is what this legislation is all about."
The bill has fallen victim to Senate gridlock in the recent past, but Landrieu, with her political career at stake, launched an effort last week to find enough Democratic converts for passage.
"Let the record be clear forever that this debate would not before this body if not for Sen. Landrieu's insistence," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who led the opposition to the bill Tuesday, but who will be replaced as chair of the environment committee by climate denier and pipeline supporter Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma next year.
The vote offers a preview of what is ahead for Obama on energy and environmental issues when the Republicans take control of both houses of Congress next year. Even if the measure fails Tuesday, Republicans in both chambers vowed to try to approve Keystone again.
For six years, the fate of the Keystone XL oil pipeline has languished amid debates over global warming and the country's energy security. The latest delay came after a lawsuit was filed in Nebraska over its route.
The White House has issued veto threats of similar bills, and issued three veto threats on House bills targeting the Environmental Protection Agency slated for votes on Tuesday. But it did not issue a formal veto threat on the Keystone bill. Both administration officials and Obama have indicated a veto is likely. Landrieu said last week that neither the Senate nor House has the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a veto.
The proposed crude-oil pipeline, which would run 1,179 miles from the Canadian tar sands to Gulf coast refineries, has been the subject of a fierce struggle between environmentalists and energy advocates ever since Calgary-based TransCanada proposed it in 2008.