Pipeline deal on verge of collapsing

Greg Nash

An impasse over amendments is threatening to scuttle a vote on legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline, despite Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) insistence Tuesday that she is within two or three votes of a filibuster-proof majority.

The deal offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave Keystone supporters a vote on their pipeline, but only if Republicans allowed an up-or-down vote on an energy efficiency bill now on the Senate floor.

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Republicans are now demanding votes on five GOP amendments to the energy efficiency bill, and Reid on Tuesday said he would not allow any of them.

“If they want to vote on Keystone, they can have a vote on Keystone, but enough is enough,” he told reporters.

Reid accused Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) of blocking the Democratic agenda by demanding votes on the amendments.

When asked if he would allow any amendments to Shaheen-Portman, Reid said simply “no.”

Instead, Reid said he would allow a vote to authorize the pipeline “a day or two” after its passage.

But that would require Republicans to allow the energy efficiency bill to go forward on Reid’s word that there would then be a vote on Keystone.

On Tuesday, Republicans signaled that wasn’t in the cards.

McConnell complained at an earlier press conference that Reid has allowed votes only on a handful of GOP amendments since July.

He said he wanted votes on amendments to roll back a crucial Obama administration climate regulation limiting emissions from coal-fired power plants, and to approve liquefied natural gas exports to World Trade Organization member countries, including Ukraine.

“We need to change the way we operate around here,” McConnell said at a press conference. “This is not the way the Senate historically has been run, and the gag rule needs to change.”

A GOP aide said that, until Reid allows votes on their amendments, the party’s members will block a final vote on the energy efficiency bill.

A senior Senate Democratic aide said Tuesday that, if Republicans do not promise to allow a final up-or-down vote on that bill, they would not be holding up their end of the bargain on Keystone.

Landrieu has been building support in her party for the pipeline for several weeks, but it is far from clear whether she can hit the magic number of 60.

“We have 57 or 58 votes as I stand here [for Keystone],” she said Tuesday on the Senate floor.

All 45 of the chamber’s Republicans back the oil sands pipeline, and last week, 11 Democrats, including Landrieu, threw their names behind the bill to approve it.

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.

As of Tuesday, two more have signed on, according to Landrieu. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) is likely one of them.

A representative for Casey said he is a “likely” yes on approval of Keystone if it goes before the Senate.

Landrieu and other advocates now will likely focus on attracting Sens. Tom Carper (Del.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), and Mark Udall (Colo.).

When asked last week 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.

Congressional sources told The Hill last week that Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) would vote “no” to avoid getting ahead of the administration’s process.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) has also indicated he will vote no.

The Obama administration is reviewing the proposal to build the Keystone pipeline, which would carry oil sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

In mid-April, the administration announced it was pushing back a State Department comment period on its review of Keystone. The decision indefinitely delays a ruling on whether the pipeline would be built, since the clock was stopped until after litigation over the route in Nebraska is completed.

Supporters of the pipeline from both parties blasted the delay and began pushing for a vote in the Senate on approving the project.

President Obama would likely veto any legislation authorizing Keystone before his administration’s review is complete, but sending such a bill to the president’s desk would be a big victory for Republicans and Democrats, such as Landrieu, who are in tough reelection races.

Ramsey Cox contributed.