Senate votes to build Keystone, defying veto threat from Obama

The Senate on Thursday voted 62-36 to build the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, delivering Republicans the first legislative victory of their new majority.

Nine Democrats joined with Republicans in voting to approve the $8 billion project, five votes short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a promised veto from President Obama.

The nine Democrats who voted to approve Keystone were Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand Bennet15 Dems urge FEC to adopt new rules for online political ads Lawmakers put their beer brewing skills to test for charity Bipartisan lawmakers can rebuild trust by passing infusion therapy bill MORE (Colo.), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperDemocrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  Pruitt to testify on EPA agenda at House, Senate hearings Senate confirms top air regulator at EPA MORE (Del.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyThe GOP tax bill will be a health care burden on American families Democrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  GOP campaign committees call on Democrats to return Franken donations MORE Jr. (Pa.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDemocrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  Indiana Dems: GOP has double standard on donations from alleged assaulters GOP campaign committees call on Democrats to return Franken donations MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDemocrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  Overnight Finance: House passes sweeping tax bill in huge victory for GOP | Senate confirms banking regulator | Mulvaney eyed for interim head of consumer agency Overnight Regulation: Senators unveil bipartisan gun background check bill | FCC rolls back media regs | Family leave credit added to tax bill | Senate confirms banking watchdog MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  Overnight Finance: House passes sweeping tax bill in huge victory for GOP | Senate confirms banking regulator | Mulvaney eyed for interim head of consumer agency Overnight Regulation: Senators unveil bipartisan gun background check bill | FCC rolls back media regs | Family leave credit added to tax bill | Senate confirms banking watchdog MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillOn Capitol Hill, few name names on sexual harassment Democrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  Gillibrand to donate money from Franken's PAC MORE (Mo.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterAnother perfect storm: Why we must act before flood insurance runs dry Democrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  GOP campaign committees call on Democrats to return Franken donations MORE (Mont.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Overnight Tech: Senate Dems want FCC chief recused from Sinclair merger | Tech rallies on Capitol Hill for DACA | Facebook beefs up lobbying ranks Facebook adds two lobbyists amid Russia probe MORE (Va.).

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCongress faces growing health care crisis in Puerto Rico The Hill's 12:30 Report Colbert mocks Trump for sipping water during speech on Asia trip MORE (R-Fla.), who is traveling, missed the vote, as did Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidVirginia was a wave election, but without real change, the tide will turn again Top Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor MORE (D-Nev.), who is recovering from eye surgery.

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The bill now heads to the House, where Republicans are determined to act quickly to force Obama into taking what they believe will be a politically unpopular stand against a project that would carry oil sands from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAlabama election has GOP racing against the clock McConnell PAC demands Moore return its money Klobuchar taking over Franken's sexual assault bill MORE (R-Ky.) took a victory lap ahead of the vote, boasting the upper chamber was about to pass “an extraordinarily important jobs bill for our country.”

The Senate, he declared, is ready to “work hard for the middle class, even in the teeth of opposition from powerful special interests.”

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTrump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery One year later, neither party can get past last year's election MORE (R-Ohio) chimed in with praise from the other side of the Capitol.

“I’d like to congratulate Sen. McConnell for passing this bill in an open, inclusive and bipartisan way,” John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTrump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery One year later, neither party can get past last year's election MORE said in a statement. “After dropping his scheme to tax middle-class college savings, we hope President Obama will now drop his threat to veto this common-sense bill.”

But while the Senate was the biggest hurdle for the Keystone bill, the legislation still has a ways to go before reaching Obama’s desk.

While the House voted to build the pipeline earlier this year, the Senate added several amendments to the legislation during three weeks of work, the byproduct of McConnell’s promise to give individual members more input on the floor.

Aides said House Republicans have not decided whether to pass the Senate bill as is or seek a conference committee, where a final version would be negotiated between the chambers.

Obama has repeatedly warned Congress not to short-circuit the federal review of the pipeline and seems poised to issue the third veto of his presidency when the legislation hits his desk.

"If, in fact, the legislation that passed the House also passes the Senate, then the president won't sign it," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.

The earliest the Keystone bill could reach Obama would be next week — just as the State Department receives final comments on the proposal to build the pipeline.

Agencies are required to send their recommendations about the pipeline to the State Department on Feb. 2, bringing the six-yearlong review of the Canada-to-Texas project one step closer to completion.

It’s possible that the Keystone bill and Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryTrump's dangerous Guantánamo fixation will fuel fire for terrorists Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Overnight Tech: Senate Dems want FCC chief recused from Sinclair merger | Tech rallies on Capitol Hill for DACA | Facebook beefs up lobbying ranks MORE’s recommendation on whether the project is in the national interest could reach Obama simultaneously, potentially helping the president avoid a veto that would anger some centrist Democrats and labor unions.

For Republicans, who have fought for years to get the cross-border pipeline approved, Thursday’s Senate vote served as the opening salvo in what they say will be a dedicated effort to pass job-creating legislation that grows the economy.

"We are hoping the president, upon reflection, will sign agree to sign onto a bill that his State Department says could creates 42,000 jobs," McConnell said.

Senators from both parties appeared relieved to reach the end of the nearly monthlong debate over Keystone, which began within hours of the 114th Congress gaveling to session on Jan. 5.

Except for “one horrible Thursday” session, which ran into the midnight hour, “it was a good process,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinQuestions loom over Franken ethics probe GOP defends Trump judicial nominee with no trial experience Democrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  MORE (D-Ill.).

During that late-night scrap, Democrats railed against Republicans after a series of 18 amendment votes ended with McConnell tabling five and moving to end debate, which they considered premature.

Republican Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP defends Trump judicial nominee with no trial experience Bipartisan compromise is vital to the legislative process Senate GOP reveals different approach on tax reform MORE (R-Ohio) called the midnight session a “hiccup” in the Senate’s return to “regular order.”

The fight over amendments to the Keystone bill generated some dramatic moments on the floor.

During the second week of debate, the Senate voted 98-1 that “climate change is real and not a hoax,” after Democrats pushed to get Republicans on record about the politically charged topic ahead of the 2016 elections.

Fifteen Republicans voted for another amendment, which failed, that stated humans contribute to climate change.

Republicans, meanwhile, used the amendment process to assail Obama’s greenhouse gas emissions deal with China and his move to protect 1.5 million acres of Alaska wilderness from oil and gas development.

In all, out of 43 amendment votes — more, Republicans touted, than were held all of last year under the Democratic majority — only six were approved and attached to the underlying bill. Two of the adopted amendments promote energy efficiency and energy retrofitting at schools, while another deals with an oil spill trust fund.

“There is a feeling we should entertain a lot of different ideas. That is what the majority leader promised, and I hope we stand by it,” Durbin said.

— Updated at 4:23 p.m.