By Laura Barron-Lopez - 05/01/14 01:03 PM EDT
Keystone XL supporters on Thursday introduced legislation they said was backed by 56 senators that would immediately greenlight the controversial oil pipeline.
"I have 56 hard yeses," Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who introduced the bill with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), told reporters Thursday.
"Beyond that I've got six or seven maybes. Our challenge is going to be to get to 60 votes," he said.
Democrats discussed the issue during a meeting on Thursday, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) expressed optimism a deal would be reached to allow a vote.
"There's a 70-80 percent chance we can work something out on Keystone," he said Thursday. Earlier this week, Reid said he wanted to bring an energy efficiency bill to the floor, but Republicans are trying to have a larger debate on energy issues.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Republicans aren't interested in a nonbinding sense-of-the-Senate vote on Keystone, which would not have any legal effect. The Senate voted on a similar nonbinding measure last year.
Hoeven said the vote on the Keystone bill won't be tossed aside.
"This is not something that is going to be delayed," Hoeven said. "It either has to be a part of the energy efficiency bill, or immediately following it."
Hoeven said he doesn't expect an agreement to be reached on a Keystone vote before the energy efficiency bill hits the Senate floor next week.
And while Republican leaders have said they would rather see a Keystone XL amendment than a stand-alone vote, Hoeven said he doesn't think its a "deal-breaker."
Landrieu says she wants a vote on stand-alone legislation, and seemed adamant Thursday that anything else was out of the question.
"The decision has already been made — we are moving forward on a vote on Keystone, and we are going to move forward on the energy efficiency bill," Landrieu said.
The bill will likely get severe pushback from the White House, Hoeven said.
“That is exactly what happened before,” he said. “At that time, we had more than 60 votes. By the time they were done, they actually pushed us down below 60. I don’t know if they’ve started that effort yet.”
Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Mark Warner (Va.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and John Walsh (Mont.) are the 10 other Democrats backing the bill with Landrieu.
Keystone proponents would need another four Democrats to sign on to the bill to reach a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes. They will likely focus on attracting Delaware’s Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Bob Casey (Penn.).
But congressional sources told The Hill that Nelson and Johnson would vote no on a binding Keystone measure to avoid getting ahead of the administration's process.
Coons is another no-go on a binding bill.
"Senator Coons believes the law makes clear that it's up to the administration to make permitting decisions like this one. He's frustrated with how long it's taking for a decision to be made, but doesn't think it's Congress' role to be issuing construction permits," Coons spokesman Ian Koski said in an email on Thursday.
When asked on Wednesday which way he'd vote, Carper wouldn't be pinned down, signaling the difficulty Keystone advocates will have rallying votes if it comes to the floor next week.
This story was last updated at 5:51 p.m.