Dem Keystone support creates tougher fight for Reid, Obama

Republicans want to jam Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidGOP pushes to change Senate rules for Trump Trump presses GOP to change Senate rules Only thing Defense’s UFO probe proves is power of political favors MORE (D-Nev.) on the Keystone oil sands pipeline and the Democratic leader will have a tough time resisting, given support within his caucus for the project.

GOP leaders have made clear to Reid that they will not approve an extension of the payroll tax holiday unless it includes language to speed up construction of the pipeline.

Senate Republicans estimate as many as 14 Senate Democrats support the project. Labor unions have also voiced strong backing, complicating Reid’s endgame talks with GOP leaders.

“I personally think the pipeline is absolutely in the national interest. It’ll help us reduce our dependence on foreign energy, at least foreign sources that are hostile to our interests,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I, for one, on this side would hope that this could be part of a final package.”

Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuSenate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Project Veritas at risk of losing fundraising license in New York, AG warns You want to recall John McCain? Good luck, it will be impossible MORE (D-La.) said Thursday the pipeline has more support among Democrats than her leaders acknowledge.

“It’s always had more Democratic support than people thought,” she said.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) Tester2020 Dems compete for top campaign operatives Senate GOP: We will grow our majority in midterms Senate passes bipartisan bill to roll back Dodd-Frank MORE (D-Mont.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday: “I am proud to again offer my support for the Keystone XL pipeline and the jobs it will create. We need a quicker decision, based on the merits of this project.”

House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner4 reasons Mike Pompeo will succeed at Foggy Bottom The misunderstood reason Congress can’t get its job done GOP sees McCarthy moving up — if GOP loses the House MORE (R-Ohio) told House GOP colleagues Friday morning he would force the Senate to vote on expediting Keystone by attaching it to the bill that Senate leaders are crafting on a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits.

Republicans say they will also insist on including Keystone in a yearlong extension of the payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and a one-year freeze in scheduled cuts to Medicare reimbursements.

Republican leaders see it as a juicy political issue to use against President Obama. If Democrats block it, it reinforces the GOP message that the administration’s regulatory agenda slows job growth.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump GOP senator threatened to hold up bill over provision to honor late political rival: report Paul: Shutting down government not my goal MORE (R-Ky.) said Friday afternoon that he and BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner4 reasons Mike Pompeo will succeed at Foggy Bottom The misunderstood reason Congress can’t get its job done GOP sees McCarthy moving up — if GOP loses the House MORE would not agree to any package extending the payroll tax holiday that did not include the Keystone language.

“There’s bipartisan support for this project and we need to get it done. We need to get it done now,” McConnell said. “The House of Representatives has been quite clear that they’re not going to support a package that does not include the pipeline. Frankly, I will not be able to support a package that doesn’t include the pipeline.”

McConnell said White House officials want to separate the Keystone pipeline from the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits but that it makes no sense to treat it in standalone legislation.

“Let’s also include something that actually helps the private sector create the jobs Americans need for the long term,” he said.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump GOP senator threatened to hold up bill over provision to honor late political rival: report Overnight Health Care: House passes .3T omnibus | Bill boosts funds for NIH, opioid treatment | Senators spar over ObamaCare fix | 'Right to Try' bill heads to the Senate MORE (R-Texas) took to Twitter to make the same demand, proclaiming that “Keystone XL pipeline WILL be part of final tax package.”

At his briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney again criticized Republicans for inserting the “extraneous” pipeline issue into the bill, and said the State Department review process should be able to run its course. 

However, Carney declined to rule out the White House accepting a bill with Keystone provisions. “I am not going to prejudge a final product that does not yet exist,” Carney said.

Carney rejected the notion that the president's opposition to the Keystone language is political.

"What he has said is that there are criteria that must be considered...You can't approve something before you have something to review. This is a process run by the State Department...that process needs to be reviewed," Carney said. "Again, the president is not making a judgment on whether the permit should or should not be granted. But what it shouldn't be is short-circuited because folks think it ought to be. That's what that review process is all about."

State is the agency charged with the review of Keystone, and it has said it would have to reject Keystone if the House language is approved because it would not have to do a sufficient review. 

Senate Republican aides say Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillKoch-backed group launches six-figure ad buy against Heitkamp GOP Senate candidate slams McCaskill over Clinton ties Dems meddle against Illinois governor ahead of GOP primary MORE (Mo.), Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusFarmers hit Trump on trade in new ad Feinstein’s trouble underlines Democratic Party’s shift to left 2020 Dems pose a big dilemma for Schumer MORE (Mont.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark BegichMark Peter BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (Alaska), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinCoal miners' union to endorse Manchin Washington VIPs gather to celebrate Mark Penn's new book Overnight Defense: Senate sides with Trump on military role in Yemen | Dem vets push for new war authorization on Iraq anniversary | General says time isn't 'right' for space corps MORE (W.Va.), Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (Ark.), Kay HaganKay Ruthven Hagan2020 Dems compete for top campaign operatives Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Politics is purple in North Carolina MORE (N.C.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Tech: What we learned from Zuckerberg's media blitz | Opening arguments in AT&T-Time Warner trial | Trump plans new tariffs on China Overnight Cybersecurity: House Intel votes to release Russia report | House lawmakers demand Zuckerberg testify | Senators unveil updated election cyber bill Dems urge Trump to appoint science adviser MORE (Va.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenators target 'gag clauses' that hide potential savings on prescriptions Nonprofit leaders look to continue work with lawmakers to strengthen charitable giving 10 Senate Democrats are up for reelection in Trump country MORE (Mich.) and Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyHouse GOP frets over Pennsylvania race Do the numbers add up for Democrat Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania? Poll: Five Senate Dems would lose to GOP challenger if elections held today MORE (Pa.) also support the Keystone language.

“All the trade unions, everyone’s for it, it creates thousands of jobs,” Manchin said on Fox News earlier this week.

Several Republican senators who are skeptical about the effectiveness of cutting payroll taxes to stimulate the economy say the Keystone pipeline gives them an important reason to vote for it.

Labor leaders have pushed Democratic leaders to concede on the pipeline, which is strongly opposed by environmentalists.

“Throughout America's Heartland, the Keystone Pipeline represents the prospect for 20,000 immediate jobs, and as many as 500,000 indirect jobs via a strong economic multiplier effect,” Mark Ayers, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, wrote in an opinion piece published by The Huffington Post last month.

Speaking about the ongoing negotiations on the payroll tax bill, Carney said, "There's a process at work. I'm not going to analyze what language would be acceptable and what wouldn't."

He said the president's primary focus is in getting the payroll tax bill passed.

"I'm not going to get ahead of the process," Carney said. "The president's priority is ensuring that Americans do not get that tax hike ... it's vital to the economy."

Ben Geman and Amie Parnes contributed to this report. 

This story was posted at 2:07 p.m. and was updated at 4:08 p.m.