Obama Vetoes Keystone Pipeline

The veto marks the first high-profile clash between the White House and Capitol Hill Republicans.

Keystone Pipeline (National Journal)

President Obama dealt a blow to Republican leaders by vetoing a top GOP priority—a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline—sending it back to the Senate, where an attempt to override the veto will likely fail.

That veto, only the third ever issued by Obama, is expected to usher in a new era of hostile confrontation between the president and the Republican Congress. It also marks the latest twist in a years-long saga over the oil-sands project, an iconic symbol at the center of a contentious debate over American energy security, oil prices, and global warming.

Obama reiterated his promise to veto legislation green-lighting the controversial oil-sands pipeline before the administration's years-long review of the project has played out.

"The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously," Obama said in a statement accompanying the veto. "But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people. And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest—including our security, safety, and environment—it has earned my veto."

Republicans on Capitol Hill have vowed to keep pressing for Keystone's approval despite the veto. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that the Senate will attempt to override the veto, a vote that McConnell said would take place no later than March 3.

There do not appear to be 67 votes in the Senate to override the veto, but Republicans have promised to tie the project to future energy legislation or must-pass spending bills that Obama would be hard-pressed to reject.

"Even though the president has yielded to powerful special interests, this veto doesn't end the debate. Americans should know that the new Congress won't stop pursuing good ideas, including this one," McConnell said in a statement.

TransCanada, the Canadian company seeking to build the pipeline, declared it "remains fully committed to Keystone XL despite today's veto of bipartisan legislation in support of the project."

The veto also isn't the last time Obama will weigh in on Keystone. The president still needs to make a final determination on the project. White House press secretary Josh Earnest would not say Tuesday when that will happen.

"The review is being conducted by the State Department, so you can get an update from them," Earnest said.

Secretary of State John Kerry must weigh in on the pipeline before the White House can make a final decision. Kerry told National Journal on Tuesday that he could not provide a concrete timeline for a decision from the State Department.

"I don't know. I have so much on my plate right now. I can't tell you," Kerry said.

Obama has indicated in recent months that he does not believe Keystone would provide much benefit to the United States. But Earnest said the veto will not represent a viewpoint on the project, and he reiterated that Obama is vetoing the bill because it cuts the ongoing federal review short.

"It circumvents a long-standing administrative process for evaluating whether or not infrastructure projects like this are in the best interest of the country," he said at the daily White House press briefing.

Earnest affirmed that Obama could still decide to green-light the pipeline.

"[Approval] certainly is possible. This president will keep an open mind as the State Department considers the wide range of impacts this pipeline could have on the country, both positive and negative, so we'll see what happens," he said.

Ben Geman contributed to this article