Within minutes of the start of the lame-duck session Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu took to the Senate floor to push her colleagues on a vote to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, as she faces a difficult reelection battle—the last of 2014—in energy-rich Louisiana.
"I want to come to the floor to ask Senator Cornyn from Texas, particularly, and Senator McConnell and Senator Reid and others if they would join me in moving forward on the Keystone XL pipeline," Landrieu said, as Cornyn left the floor. "This has been a project that has lingered far too long. It is clearly supported by sixty or more members of this body."¦ And I believe with a push, a significant push in the next few hours, that we could actually get the votes we need to pass the Keystone pipeline."
The vote could come as early as next Tuesday, after Landrieu succeeded in acquiring unanimous consent to move forward. Such a move had appeared unlikely, as Majority Leader Harry Reid, who still controls the floor until January, had repeatedly denied requests to take up the legislation.
But things have changed for Democrats since Republicans won the majority, and the party made clear early that they were not going to stand in the way of a vote. "The Senate has reached an agreement to debate and vote on Senator Landrieu's Keystone bill," Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said on Wednesday.
Senate Democrats who are environmentally minded are well-aware that if they had blocked Landrieu's request, the Republican majority will take up the Keystone Pipeline again next year anyway—and they'll have bigger numbers to push it through. Allowing a vote now gives them the opportunity to vote against the measure and, with the Democratic majority still seated, potentially to tout its defeat.
But such a vote—and perhaps even the act of calling for one—could help Landrieu, who faces an uphill battle with Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy in the runoff election for her seat. Much of Landrieu's campaign leading up to Election Day had concentrated on her chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a major policy powerhouse for her state. But with the loss of the Democratic majority, Landrieu lost her chairmanship. Forcing a vote on Keystone could reinforce that she still holds clout in the upper chamber.
The House, meanwhile, is expected to vote on a bill approving the Keystone pipeline Thursday, and the Rules Committee was preparing the measure for consideration Wednesday afternoon. That bill is being sponsored by, of all people, Bill Cassidy, Landrieu's opponent.
The Cassidy-Landrieu mirroring over Keystone is a replay of the fight over flood insurance earlier this year. A Cassidy-sponsored fix passed the House and Landrieu added it to her own bill in the Senate. Since, both have tried to claim some credit for the measure and made the issue a major platform of their campaigns.
But on Keystone, Landrieu is trying to make the case now that bragging rights don't matter. "Whoever's name is on the bill does not matter to me, as long as this gets done," Landrieu said on the Senate floor.
President Obama and his spokesman have not said whether he would veto a bill that requires approval of the Keystone. TransCanada Corp.'s proposed pipeline remains under review at the State Department, which has spent years analyzing the multi-billion dollar project. The pipeline would carry hundreds of thousands of barrels per day from Alberta's oil sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries.
Winning approval of the long-stalled project is a top priority for the oil industry and a number of business groups, who call it a way to boost energy security and create jobs. Republicans strongly support Keystone, but it has split Democrats.
Environmentalists bitterly oppose Keystone, arguing that it would worsen climate change by serving as a catalyst for the growth of of greenhouse gas-intensive oil sands development.
However, a State Department environmental analysis released in January dealt a blow to green groups by largely concluding that building Keystone would probably not have much effect on the rate of expansion of oil sands production.
A new Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday showed that a majority of the public supports Keystone, but support among Democrats has dropped to 43 percent, compared to 54 percent in March of 2013.
Republicans had been likely to use their new majority to push through the Keystone pipeline early next year. But with Landrieu's reelection runoff scheduled for Dec. 6 and Cassidy leading in polling for that contest, that vote could come far too late for Landrieu.
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Dan Newhauser and Ben Geman contributed to this article
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.