By Ben Geman and Josiah Ryan - 03/08/12 09:20 PM EST
The Senate has rejected a GOP plan to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline after President Obama made personal calls to Democrats urging them to oppose it.
Despite Obama's efforts, 11 Democrats brushed off Obama on the vote and sided with Republicans.
The 11 Democratic defections were Sens. Max BaucusMax BaucusGlover Park Group now lobbying for Lyft Wyden unveils business tax proposal College endowments under scrutiny MORE (Mont.), Mark BegichMark BegichSenate GOP deeply concerned over Trump effect Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (Alaska), Bob CaseyBob CaseyLiberal group: Kaine could be 'disastrous' VP pick New Guccifer 2.0 dump highlights ‘wobbly Dems’ on Iran deal Senate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency MORE (Pa.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Kay HaganKay Hagan10 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2016 Senate Republicans are feeling the 'Trump effect' Washington's lobby firms riding high MORE (N.C.), Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE (La.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinNew Guccifer 2.0 dump highlights ‘wobbly Dems’ on Iran deal Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension Overnight Finance: Senate punts on Zika funding | House panel clears final spending bill | Biz groups press Treasury on tax rules | Obama trade rep confident Pacific deal passes this year MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillWatchdog faults Energy Department over whistleblower retaliation Wagner passes on NRCC bid, backs Stivers Senate Dem: Trump will pick 'handsome' Pence MORE (Mo.), Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE (Ark.), Jon TesterJon TesterSenate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency Bayh jumps into Indiana Senate race Six senators call on housing regulator to let Congress finish housing finance reform MORE (Mont.) and Jim Webb (Va.).
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No Republicans voted against the measure, and 60 votes were needed to move forward.
With gas prices rising, the issue has become an election-year political weapon for Republicans, who say Obama is passing up a chance to boost U.S. energy security and create jobs. Several of the Democrats who voted in favor of Keystone face reelection contests this year, including Casey, Manchin, McCaskill and Tester.
Sen. John HoevenJohn HoevenMajority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention Death threats against senators remained on Twitter for 2 weeks Senate panel approves funding boost for TSA MORE (R-N.D.), the measure's chief sponsor, told reporters after the vote that he'll continue seeking ways to advance Keystone.
"All along we've said the highway bill was just one option. This is a project that got majority support in the Senate. We are making progress," Hoeven said.
"We will see what else comes up, and I'm not even sure that we're done with the highway bill. Remember we have got to work with the House too," said Hoeven, who highlighted the Democratic votes for the amendment.
Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenDems push for US, EU cooperation on China's market status Senate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency Watchdog faults Energy Department over whistleblower retaliation MORE (D-Ore.) and other Democrats opposed to the project argued oil would end up going to Asia, and that the pipeline could even raise costs in the U.S.
Obama rejected a cross-border permit for the Keystone pipeline in January.
He said the decision was not based on the merits of the project, but instead in response to a 60-day permit decision deadline that Republicans demanded in a December payroll tax cut bill. Obama said the deadline would short-circuit review.
The administration has invited TransCanada to reapply for a cross-border permit, which the company plans to do, and is also blessing TransCanada’s plan to proceed with a portion of the project to bring U.S oil from Oklahoma to Gulf Coast refineries.
Obama personally urged senators to reject the amendment, and White House spokesman Clark Stevens, ahead of the vote, bashed the proposal sponsored by Hoeven and backed by GOP leadership.
“Once again Republicans are trying to play politics with a pipeline project whose route has yet to be proposed, and despite the claims that this would somehow solve the pain families are feeling at the pump today, according to the company it would take years before it transported a drop of oil,” Stevens said in a statement.
The amendment, unlike previous GOP efforts to simply create a deadline for an administration permit decision, would have bypassed the administration and approved construction, although the legislation would still require Obama’s signature.
Obama in recent days and weeks has aggressively touted his own energy policies with a trio of speeches in battleground states.
Powerful industry groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, along with some unions, have lobbied strongly for the pipeline and argue that the State Department has already conducted a robust review of the project.
TransCanada initially applied for a permit in 2008.
Environmentalists and a number of Democrats strongly oppose the project over greenhouse gas emissions from extracting and burning oil sands, forest damage from the massive projects and fear of spill along the route.
Just before the vote on the GOP amendment, the Senate also turned back an amendment from Wyden. The 34-64 vote might have given some Democrats political cover to vote against the GOP-led Keystone amendment from Sens. Hoeven, Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and David VitterDavid VitterDavid Duke will bank on racial tensions in Louisiana Senate bid Former KKK leader David Duke running for Senate Six senators call on housing regulator to let Congress finish housing finance reform MORE (R-La.).
Wyden’s plan required “expeditious” review of the Keystone permit application, but also barred U.S. export of oil from the pipeline or refined products created from it.
Hoeven said Wyden's bill would stop the Keystone project.
“This amendment is designed to block the project, make no mistake … it requests that TransCanada start over after 3.5 years … and adds additional impediments to the project,” he said prior to the vote. “With gas prices going up every day … we need more supply, and not from the Middle East.”
But Wyden said his amendment would ensure Keystone was built the right way.
“This amendment ensures the Keystone pipeline is built by American workers using American steel and that our priority is reasonably priced energy for American families and business rather than their Chinese competitors,” he said.
“When you build a pipeline that is 2,000 miles across the nation, our challenge is to do it right. There are two alternatives. This one gives us a chance to do it right.”
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This story was updated at 5:13 p.m.