By Laura Barron-Lopez - 01/20/15 05:56 PM EST
The Senate on Tuesday began what is expected to be a weeks-long debate over the Keystone XL pipeline by holding a trio of amendment votes.
Out of the three amendments proposed, only one — Republican Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanOvernight Healthcare: Watchdog says ObamaCare program made illegal payments Portman ad features father of fallen Iraq soldier Election-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables MORE's (Ohio) trimmed down version of an energy efficiency bill — passed, in a 95-4 vote.
Two other amendments proposed by Democrats — one that would have banned the export of oil shipped through the Canada-to-Texas pipeline and another that would have required the project be built with U.S. steel — were killed by the Senate.
Republicans shot back that a motion to table simply means the Senate as a whole doesn't think the amendment should get a vote.
The confusion pointed to the difficulty senators might have in transitioning back to “regular order,” where legislation is amended on the floor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnell9/11 bill is a global blunder that will weaken US efforts abroad States urged to bolster election security How the White House got rolled on the Saudi-9/11 bill MORE (R-Ky.) has vowed to allow an open amendment process for the Keystone bill to give members more input.
Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Mylan CEO should be ashamed of EpiPen prices Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks MORE (D-W.Va.), a co-sponsor of the underlying Keystone bill, said he didn't mind having votes to table amendments.
"It is the first time we have got to vote very much since I have been here in four years, so the vote to table something is a vote," Manchin told reporters.
Senators on Tuesday agreed to take up another six amendments, with votes set to begin Wednesday.
Democrats offered two climate change-related amendments. One of them, from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), says climate change is real and significantly caused by humans. The second, from Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseAnti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Overnight Energy: SEC begins probing Exxon Senate Dems unveil new public option push for ObamaCare MORE (D-R.I.), simply states that,“"climate change is real and not a hoax."
Schatz said the amendments are about "laying down a predicate that asks people what side of basic science and facts they are on."
Republicans are broadly skeptical of the scientific consensus on climate change, arguing the extent to which it is caused by human activity is overstated.
Democrats in response have taken to labeling the GOP a party of “climate deniers” and say Republicans will pay the price at the ballot box in 2016 for their stance.
"There's an opportunity for a moderate, science-oriented Republican to show some courage, and vote in the way that they know reflects the facts, even if it may cause them difficulty in the primary election," Schatz said.
The next series of votes also includes an amendment offered by Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinRetailers have jumped the shark Dems gain upper hand on budget McConnell: Senate could drop flood money from spending bill MORE (D-Ill.) on the transportation of petroleum coke.
Also added to the queue were three Republican amendments: One, from Sen. Deb FischerDeb FischerIvanka sells Trump childcare to Capitol Hill GOP to Obama: Sanction Chinese entities to get to North Korea Massachusetts demonstrates progress is possible on equal pay MORE (R-Neb.), would limit the designation of new national monuments. Another, from Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeICANN is already under foreign government influence: the proof is in the pudding Senators express 'grave concerns' about ObamaCare 'bailout' Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (R-Utah), would restrict fees paid to plaintiffs in endangered species suits. The last amendment, from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), deals with coal refuse power plants.
— This story was updated at 7:25 p.m.