Senate Democratic leaders may bring up legislation to approve the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline during the lame-duck session, a vote designed to help embattled Democrat Mary Landrieu gain momentum heading into her Dec. 6 runoff.
"It looks like they are trying to find a way to give Landrieu a vote on this," said a Senate Democratic aide close to battles over the controversial oil-sands pipeline. "I think the question now is timing and vehicle."
Bloomberg reported on the potential vote earlier on Tuesday. Aides to Sen. Harry Reid, who is majority leader until Republicans take control next year, did not respond to a request for comment. An industry source tracking the topic said the vote could take the form of an amendment to defense programs legislation, or a separate bill.
Republicans plan to quickly push through legislation next year to approve TransCanada's multibillion-dollar pipeline, and appear to have secured a filibuster-proof majority in favor of the project. Winning approval of the project, which would bring hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil daily from Alberta's oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, is a priority for the petroleum industry.
A Keystone vote this year could aid Landrieu, an oil-industry ally battling for her political life in her conservative home state. In the current Senate, the coalition of Republicans and pro-Keystone Democrats is likely several supporters short of 60 votes, but the Democratic aide said either outcome could help Landrieu because she can "rail against" Democrats and President Obama if it fails.
"Either way, it is a net gain for her," the aide said.
A lame-duck vote could also put Republicans in an awkward position of choosing between giving Landrieu a political win by voting in favor of the project, or voting against a pipeline they have long supported. Landrieu will face GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy in the runoff, after neither got a majority on election night.
But Cassidy is considered to have an edge heading into the runoff by benefiting from votes that went to tea-party-backed Republican Rob Maness, who placed third on election night.
Obama has not said whether he will veto legislation that green-lights Keystone, but he said last week that the State Department's review process should be allowed to play out.
An environmental group battling the pipeline quickly bashed the prospect of a vote. "Harry Reid is savvy enough to know that a fake vote on Keystone XL is a lose-lose proposition. It would do nothing to help Landrieu and a lot to hurt the president, as well as Democrats' hopes to mobilize the base in 2016," said Jamie Henn, a spokesman for 350 Action, the political arm of 350.org.