Senate sets up showdown with Obama over Keystone pipeline

Greg Nash

The Senate and President Obama launched down a collision course Tuesday over the Keystone XL oil pipeline, with 60 lawmakers introducing a new bill to approve the controversial project and the White House promising to veto it.

The White House said Obama “wouldn’t sign” legislation being considered by both chambers hours after Sens. John HoevenJohn HoevenSenate panel approves funding boost for TSA Overnight Energy: Senate Dems block energy, water bill a third time Bison declared national mammal MORE (R-N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinHow Congress got to yes on toxic chemical reform Red-state Dem hits back over coal, court attacks How Senate Democrats are trying to deal with Sanders MORE (D-W.Va.) introduced their legislation, citing ongoing litigation in Nebraska over the pipeline’s route through that state.

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“Once that is resolved, that should speed the completion of the evaluation of that project,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said of the Nebraska case.

Republicans in the Senate who had promised to make Keystone their first piece of business immediately fired back, using the White House threat to cast Obama as an opponent of bipartisanship.

“The president threatening to veto the first bipartisan infrastructure bill of the new Congress must come as a shock to the American people who spoke loudly in November in favor of bipartisan accomplishments,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: House loosens pesticide rules to fight Zika | A GOP bill that keeps some of ObamaCare | More proof of pending premium hikes Senate votes to block financial adviser rule Reid defends embattled VA secretary MORE (R-Ky.).

The bill now has 54 Republican and six Democratic co-sponsors: Sens. Manchin, Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampHouse Dems urge Senate panel to vote on Ex-Im Bank nominee Senate Dems frustrated over lack of action on Ex-Im Bank nominee Overnight Regulation: Schumer offering gun control bill MORE (N.D.), Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillDem senator: Sexual assault case show 'troubling command culture' The Trail 2016: Sanders who? Clinton supporter: Nevada convention violence an 'aberration' MORE (Mo.), Mark WarnerMark WarnerLawmaker bemoans tax 'buzzsaw' for on-demand economy workers Reid throws wrench into Clinton vice presidential picks Reid: 'Hell no' to VP pick from state with a Republican governor MORE (Va.), Jon TesterJon TesterIt's time we empower veterans with entrepreneurial skills Dem introduces bill to block new government hacking powers Our nation's drug problem is also a postal service problem MORE (Mont.) and Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyThis week: GOP lawmakers reckon with Trump Democrats block energy spending bill over Iran amendment GOP blocks Obama sanctions czar MORE (Ind.).

They also say three other Democrats, Sens. Bob CaseyBob CaseyGOP chairman sees funding deal soon on medical cures bill Overnight Healthcare: House takes first step on opioids bills Overnight Regulation: FDA e-cig rule hit with first lawsuit MORE Jr. (Pa.), Tom CarperTom CarperFinancial industry spars with retailers over data breach bill Week ahead: Cyber Command in the spotlight Lawsuit exposes M cybertheft through banking software MORE (Del.) and Michael BennetMichael BennetGOP ad calls Clinton 'a living history of scandal' Trump, GOP agree: ObamaCare helps us GOP hopefuls struggle with support of Trump MORE (Colo.), who voted to approve the Canada-to-Texas pipeline in November, are likely to back it.

Those 63 votes would be more than enough to send a bill to Obama. But it’s not enough support to override a veto.

A few Democrats joined Republicans in expressing disappointment with the White House.

“I am disappointed that the president will not allow this Congress to turn over a new leaf and engage in the legislative process to improve an important piece of legislation,” Manchin said. 

He called the veto threat “premature,” arguing the administration should have waited until amendments were offered to decide whether to issue the threat.

Environmental groups have made stopping the Keystone pipeline their No. 1 issue, putting pressure on Obama and liberal Democrats to stop it in its tracks. 

Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinReid: 'Lay off' Sanders criticism Senators tout 4.5B defense spending bill that sticks to budget Lawmakers seek changes in TSA PreCheck program MORE (D-Ill.) on Tuesday derailed a planned Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Keystone legislation by objecting to it on the Senate floor.

Given Durbin’s move, it was unclear whether the panel would mark up the legislation on Thursday.

Other Democrats questioned, with gas prices at new lows, why Republicans are pushing a pipeline that green groups warn could lead to environmentally damaging oil spills.

“With gas prices falling, and domestic oil supplies rising, one has to wonder why Congressional Republicans would use their first chance to prove they can get things done on a Canadian export pipeline that is dead before it ever even gets a vote,” Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySanders pans chemical safety reform deal Feds fault pipeline company in California oil spill Dems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees MORE (D-Mass.) said in a statement.