GOP on Keystone: This isn’t over

Republicans vowed to continue aggressively pushing for approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline Thursday shortly after the Senate narrowly rejected a GOP-backed measure to greenlight the project.

The Senate Republicans who authored the Keystone provision told reporters they are working with House GOP leadership to ensure that a measure fast-tracking approval of the project is ultimately attached to the highway bill.

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“We intend to continue our efforts, including on this bill,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) told reporters shortly after the Senate Keystone vote. “Remember, we’re going to have to come to an agreement with the House, and I believe there is strong support for the Keystone XL pipeline project in the House as well.”

The Senate rejected Thursday night the Republican Keystone measure, which came up as an amendment to the Senate highway bill, in a 56-42 vote. Sixty votes were required for passage.

“We’re going to continue this fight on behalf of a project that the people of this country very much want,” Hoeven said.

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) said he hoped the measure could be added either during floor debate on the highway bill in the House or as part of a bicameral conference process aimed at coming to an agreement on the bill.

“If not, there will be other bills,” Lugar said, noting that Republicans successfully won inclusion in a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut of a measure requiring that Obama make a decision on the pipeline with 60 days.

Obama rejected a key permit for the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline in January, insisting that the decision wasn’t based on the merits of the project but on the “arbitrary” deadline included in the payroll tax cut package.

Eleven Democrats supported the GOP Keystone amendment Thursday, bolstering GOP hopes that the legislation could ultimately pass the Senate.

“Obviously, we got a strong majority in the Senate and we’re working our way toward the 60 votes that we need,” Hoeven said. He added that the measure would have won 58 supporters if two Republican lawmakers had been able to attend the vote.

But Democrats and environmental groups quickly claimed victory.

“It is a big win for us because everybody thought it was going to pass,” Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said after the vote.
 
“The big oil companies have been really misleading people about it, so the fact that they lost it, it is a defeat for them.”

Republicans quickly sought to pin the blame for the amendment’s failure on President Obama, who urged Democrats to vote against the measure in a series of private phone calls.

“President Obama’s personal pleas to wavering Senators may have tipped the balance against this legislation,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement Thursday night. “When it comes to delays over Keystone, anyone looking for a culprit should now look no further than the Oval Office.”

Lugar echoed McConnell’s comments.

“I suppose you’ll give credit to the president for once again blocking something,” he said.

—Ben Geman contributed to this story.