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GOP prepares Keystone blitz

GOP prepares Keystone blitz
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Republicans are putting the Keystone XL pipeline at the top of the agenda as they seek to move a stack of legislation to President Obama’s desk in 2015.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 MORE (R-Ky.) has promised that a vote on approving the $8 billion oil sands project would be his first order of business in the majority, and legislation is set to move quickly in the opening days of the new Congress.

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A Senate panel will hold a hearing on legislation to approve construction of the pipeline next week, followed by a markup on Thursday, raising the potential for a final vote in mid-January.

If all goes as planned, Keystone proponents will have the filibuster-proof majority needed to get a bill to Obama, setting the stage for what could be his first veto in the new Republican Congress. But securing a veto-proof majority will be challenging in both the House and the Senate.

“The Senate needs to get back to work, and Leader McConnell chose Keystone, a bipartisan infrastructure bill, as the first for consideration because a final decision on this pipeline project is grossly overdue,” said McConnell spokesman Michael Brumas.

“This widely supported, bipartisan proposal to approve construction of the pipeline will help grow our economy and put thousands of Americans back to work,” Brumas added.

It remains to be seen how quickly a Keystone bill can advance, given McConnell’s vow to return to an open amendment process, which can often result in lengthy debates and floor votes.  

But if and when a bill makes it through the Senate, it is expected to sail through the House, where the GOP majority has voted repeatedly to green light the controversial Canada-to-Texas project.

Indeed, the off-again, on-again federal review of the oil sands project has been a major point of contention for Republicans throughout Obama’s six-years in office.

Republicans, the oil industry and some Democrats and labor unions have ripped the White House over the sluggish permitting process for Keystone, arguing a project that will boost the economy has been needlessly delayed.

Obama has warned that Congress should not circumvent the State Department process, arguing agencies need to time to determine whether the pipeline is environmentally and economically sound once litigation in Nebraska is resolved.

The president has sent signals in recent weeks that he might reject the project.

In December, Obama said building Keystone would not “not even have a nominal benefit” to consumers — a key point, as the federal review is tasked with determining whether the project is in the national interest.

“It’s very good for Canadian oil companies, and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers,” Obama said.

Senior administration officials say Obama is laying the groundwork to reject the project, according to The Wall Street Journal. That decision would thrill environmental groups, who have waged a long campaign against it.

Republicans are undeterred, and are hopeful that their bill will draw bipartisan support.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the Keystone bill on Jan. 7, with the work needed to get the bill to the floor taking place the following day.

After that, all signs point toward McConnell bringing the bill to the floor as soon as possible, according to Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Energy committee chairwoman Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiLawmakers scold Trump official over Pacific island trust fund Republican agenda clouded by division Greens sue over Interior plans to build road through Alaska refuge MORE (R-Alaska).

Still, one top GOP aide said it is safe to assume the Keystone bill could take days or even to finish weeks.

It’s possible that Republicans will dangle a bipartisan energy efficiency bill in front of Democrats to sweeten the deal and speed up the process.

Without some kind of compromise, the bill is expected to pass with 61 votes, with all 54 Republicans voting in favor. Seven Democrats who have supported Keystone are expected to vote with Republicans, putting the count at 61.

The expected Democratic “yes” votes on the pipeline are Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHouse passes bill to ease menu labeling rules under ObamaCare In 2018, Trump must be the small-business champion he claimed to be GOP goes on offense with 20-week abortion vote MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Manchin: Senators should sign pledge not to campaign against each other  GOP senators turning Trump immigration framework into legislation MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyHouse passes bill to ease menu labeling rules under ObamaCare Democrat Manchin: Pence attacks prove ‘they don't want bipartisanship’ in Trump admin Pence optimistic GOP can expand majorities in House, Senate MORE (Ind.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGovernment watchdog finds safety gaps in assisted living homes GOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races McCaskill challenger links human trafficking to 'sexual revolution' of 1960s MORE (Mo.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrat Manchin: Pence attacks prove ‘they don't want bipartisanship’ in Trump admin Tester invited the Border Patrol Union’s president to the State of the Union. What does that say to Dreamers?   These Democrats will have a hard time keeping their seats in 2018 MORE (Mont.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerRegulators push for 'coordinated' approach to bitcoin trading House funding bill includes bipartisan Medicare reforms Overnight Tech: Mulvaney reportedly froze Equifax hack probe | Dems want new restrictions on Comcast-NBC | NJ gov signs net neutrality order | Senate confirms patent chief MORE (Va.) and Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDem senator: Pence all 'talk, no action' GOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races Overnight Health Care: Senate Dems block 20-week abortion ban | Azar sworn in as HHS chief | Dems demand answers on family planning funds | GOP takes sting out of ObamaCare MORE (Pa.).

Environmentalists and opponents of the project have targeted Casey in previous Keystone votes, but failed to change his mind in November, when he supported a pro-Keystone bill from Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuProject Veritas at risk of losing fundraising license in New York, AG warns You want to recall John McCain? Good luck, it will be impossible CNN producer on new O'Keefe video: Voters are 'stupid,' Trump is 'crazy' MORE (D-La.).

Opponents of the project are vowing they won’t go down without a fight.

During the November vote, green groups staged protests in the Washington, D.C. offices of Democratic Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Regulation: EPA sued over water rule delay | House passes bill to ease ObamaCare calorie rule | Regulators talk bitcoin | Patient groups oppose FDA 'right to try' bill Dem senator questions EPA on stark decline in grant awards Green group backs Sens. Baldwin, Nelson for reelection MORE (Del.), and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetGOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races Dem shutdown strategy: Force McConnell to deal DACA is neither bipartisan nor in America's interest MORE (Colo.), both of whom decided to vote for the pipeline in the days leading up to the vote.

If Carper and Bennet were to join with supporters of the pipeline again, it would bring the vote count to 63 — four shy of the total needed to override a presidential veto.

The House in November passed a Keystone bill, 252-161, far short of a veto-proof majority. While the GOP picked up 13 seats in the midterm election, it looks like House Republicans are still short of that goal. Thirty-one House Democrats approved the Keystone measure in the lame-duck session.

“The Democrats voting with the climate deniers on Keystone XL have put themselves in a precarious position,” said Jason Kowalski, policy director for climate group 350.org.

“Last month activists showed up at their state and DC offices with banners saying, ‘If you're not a climate denier, don't vote like one.’ Climate activists will continue to make pro-Keystone XL votes a very uncomfortable place for lawmakers who claim to believe in science.”

350.org and the Natural Resources Defense Council said they would continue to pressure lawmakers who back the pipeline, but wouldn’t give specifics on who they plan to target this time around.