Sen. John ThuneJohn ThuneTrump’s Commerce pick backs public spending on transportation Trump's Commerce pick admits to unknowingly hiring undocumented worker Why Trump should abolish the White House faith office MORE (R-S.D.) sees the heavy hand of the White House pushing Democratic opposition to payroll tax cut legislation that includes provisions to expedite a federal decision on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.
“The White House is having them swear a blood oath on this thing,” Thune, a member of the GOP’s leadership team, told E2 on Wednesday.
“I think left to their own devices, there would be a lot of Democrats who would vote for it, but the White House is dug in on this, and I think there is a lot of arm-twisting going on right now, a lot of broken arms in the House Democrat Caucus and I think that is true up here [in the Senate] too,” Thune said. “It is pretty clear that the White House got to them.”
Seven of the 10 House Democrats that voted for the GOP package Tuesday also supported the Keystone bill in July.
Several Democratic senators told E2 that the White House has not lobbied them to ensure the Keystone provision stays out of the payroll tax cut bill.
“I haven’t heard anything at this point but that doesn’t mean they haven’t reached out to my staff,” said Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallPaul, Lee call on Trump to work with Congress on foreign policy Senate takes first step toward repealing ObamaCare Tillerson discloses assets worth up to 0M MORE (D-N.M.).
A White House aide did not immediately respond to a request for comment on their level of outreach to Capitol Hill on the Keystone provision, which Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems want Sessions to recuse himself from Trump-Russia probe Ryan says Trump, GOP 'in complete sync' on ObamaCare Congress has a mandate to repeal ObamaCare MORE (D-Nev.) has called a non-starter in the Senate. The path forward for payroll tax cut legislation in the Senate remains uncertain Wednesday.
Extending the payroll tax cut is a top White House priority, but President Obama has also threatened to veto the House version of the bill and attacked the GOP push to tether Keystone to the tax cut.
The Obama administration has punted a decision on whether to permit the proposed pipeline until 2013. Republicans are pushing legislation that would require a permit within 60 days unless the president determines that it’s not in the national interest.
Republicans, backed by powerful business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, are pushing for swift approval of the project that they say would boost energy security and create scores of jobs.
A slew of unions, such as the Laborers' International Union of North America, the Teamsters and others back the project as well, although labor is not completely united — the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union both oppose Keystone XL.
Environmentalists and a number of Democrats oppose the project due to greenhouse gas emissions and forest damage from the energy-intensive oil sands projects, potential spills and other issues.