As Dem support builds for Keystone, pressure’s on Reid

Greg Nash

Support among Senate Democrats for a vote on legislation to build the Keystone oil pipeline is growing, raising pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

At least five Democrats say they would definitely vote in favor of legislation to build Keystone, while one other is seen as a “likely yes” vote.

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Five more Democrats have pressed the administration to set a deadline on its decision, leading Keystone’s proponents to think they can get a strong vote if Reid were to allow it.

All of the chamber’s Republicans would be expected to vote for the bill.

“There is building support in the Democratic Caucus to move forward on Keystone,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said Wednesday. “Many Democrats, like myself, believe this pipeline should have been built some time ago, so we are frustrated with the slowness of the process.”

Landrieu, who is one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents up for reelection this year, is one of the five definite “yes” votes.

She expressed hope on Wednesday that Reid would schedule a stand alone vote on a Keystone.

Reid is also considering a vote on a “sense of the Senate” resolution on Keystone, which would be nonbinding. He complained on Tuesday that Keystone proponents had been changing their demands on the measure. 

Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are trying to negotiate a deal that would allow for a Keystone vote. 

McConnell said this week that he wants a binding vote on Keystone and isn’t interested in "a sense of the Senate" vote that would be attached to an energy efficiency bill headed to the Senate floor next week. 

“We want a real vote on Keystone,” he said Tuesday. 

But Republicans have not indicated if they would pursue a vote on the pipeline as an amendment to the energy efficiency bill or as stand-alone legislation.

Besides Landrieu, four other Senate Democrats are definite “yes” votes on a Keystone bill: Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.). 

Another Democrat, Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska), is seen as a “likely yes” vote. 

Like Landrieu, Begich and Pryor are up for reelection next year and are seen as vulnerable. 

Allowing a vote on Keystone would allow all of those senators to tout their votes on the campaign trail. But if it is a vote to actually construct Keystone, rather than a sense of the Senate, it could complicate life for the White House. 

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday urged the Senate not to hold a vote on Keystone. 

“What I can tell you is, the president has long maintained that it is appropriate for a process like this to be separated from politics, and to be worked on and run out of the State Department, which has been the case through successive administrations of both parties,” Carney said at his daily briefing. 

“And what we’ve seen in the past when Congress has passed legislation, it has actually slowed the process down. So we believe that this has to be run by the book outside of politics, and that’s the way it’s being run,” Carney said.  

Landrieu and others are hopeful that they can get more Democratic votes in favor of legislation to build Keystone. 

Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Warner (Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and John Walsh (Mont.) all signed a letter to President Obama calling for a firm deadline on the administration’s review of whether to build the proposed pipeline, which would carry crude from Alberta, Canada, oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

At press time, those senators’ offices had not responded to questions on whether they would definitely vote in favor of legislation calling on the administration to build Keystone. 

Landrieu also said she could vote against the energy bill, one of the few pieces of legislation seen as having a chance to reach the president’s desk, if she does not get the vote she wants on Keystone.

“I am working hard to bring energy efficiency forward but will not be able to do so unless we have a stand-alone vote on Keystone,” she said. 

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), co-authors of the energy efficiency bill, have said they are hoping to keep amendments to their bill limited to energy issues.

Despite the strong push to get a vote on Keystone, Shaheen doesn’t think it will bring the bill down.

“I’m happy to have a debate on energy issues; it’s a good thing, but we are still negotiating what might be offered in amendments,” Shaheen said.

“I think everybody is interested in trying to see the bill move forward, so the discussion around Keystone is happening in that context,” she added.

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