White House threatens Keystone veto

The White House said on Tuesday that President Obama would veto legislation that approves construction of the Keystone XL pipeline if it passes Congress.

"If this bill passes this Congress the president wouldn't sign it either," White House press secretary Josh Earnest vowed Tuesday of the pending Keystone legislation.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenators scuffle over trace of Planned Parenthood language in GMO bill Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill MORE (R-Ky.) has promised to make a bill that greenlights the $8 billion oil sands project the first item to hit Obama's desk this year. 

The bill is all but guaranteed to pass the Senate, with 60 co-sponsors as of Tuesday morning.

Earnest, though, said the president will not stray from the ongoing review process. He cited litigation in Nebraska over the pipeline's route as the key reason behind Obama's decision to not sign Keystone legislation.

"Once that is resolved that should speed the completion of the evaluation of that project," Earnest said of the Nebraska case.

When asked if the president would be open to signing the bill if a broader package on Keystone included measures the White House may want from Congress, Earnest wouldn't be pinned down.

"I haven't heard any Republicans float that as a possible measure," Earnest said.

"The president has been pretty clear that he does not think circumventing a well-established process for evaluating these projects is the right thing for Congress," he added.

Earnest also shot back at suggestions that the White House appeared to be back-pedaling on cooperating with the new GOP Congress.

"Congressional Republicans are well aware of the position of this administration, which is that we believe clearly that this administrative process is the one that should determine the viability of this project and that is a long held view," Earnest said.

"So it may raise questions about the willingness of Republicans to actually cooperate with this administration when you consider that the very first bill that is introduced in U.S. Senate is one that Republicans know the president opposes," he added.

Asked if the veto threat signaled that the president may ultimately reject the pipeline, Earnest carefully noted that Obama is "skeptical" of the project, and its benefits. But he insisted that vetoing the legislation does not mean the president would block the project in the end.

"I will withhold broader judgments on [the] project itself, although you can note our skepticism," Earnest said.

This story was last updated at 2:07 p.m.