Republicans sign Keystone bill, will make Obama wait on veto

Greg Nash

Congressional Republicans plan to hold back legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline to prevent President Obama from vetoing it while lawmakers are away from Washington.

While Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan has little margin for error in Speaker vote Top Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ohio) staged a signing ceremony for the bill on Friday morning, the legislation will not be sent to the White House until after next week’s Presidents Day recess, according to a top Republican aide.

"Keystone isn’t just a pipeline, it’s a lifeline for our construction workers.  And the overwhelming majority of the American people know it as well," BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan has little margin for error in Speaker vote Top Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE said Friday. "So to the president, I would just say this: do the right thing, sign this bill."

Once Obama receives the bill, he will have 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign or veto it.

Asked about the timeline provided by the aide, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellCures bill in jeopardy amid drug pricing push Senate Democratic super PAC sets fundraising record Five takeaways from Florida Senate debate MORE (R-Ky.) suggested the bill could be sent to Obama the week of Feb. 23.

"I expect [the bill] will be [at the White House] by the day we’re back,” said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart.

The White House has repeatedly promised that Obama will veto the legislation, arguing the review of the $8 billion project at the State Department should be allowed to run its course.

"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," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last month.

The State Department just finished collecting comments from agencies on whether the oil sands project is in the nation's best interest, potentially setting the stage for a determination this spring.

Once Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryThe Atlantic Council's questionable relationship with Gabon’s leader State Dept. months late on explaining Clinton aide's missing emails The evidence backs Trump: We have a duty to doubt election results MORE finishes reviewing the comments, he will send a recommendation to Obama, who will make the final decision.

Even after the veto, opponents of the pipeline are exceedingly optimistic that Obama will reject the project, noting the president has taken a skeptical tone toward the pipeline in recent months.

“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, it’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers,” Obama said in December.

Republicans and some Democrats have blasted the holdup on the pipeline, rallying at the start of the new Congress to approve legislation that would take the decision out of Obama’s hands.

Still, supporters of Keystone appear to be well short of the two-thirds majorities that would be needed to override Obama’s coming veto.

Republicans this week urged Obama to reconsider his veto threat, arguing the pipeline will create thousands of jobs and make the country more energy independent.

Boehner at a press conference this week accused the president of siding with "left-fringe extremists and anarchists" by holding up Keystone, while McConnell calledthe project "common sense."

If Obama follows through on his threat to reject the Keystone bill, it will be only the third veto of his presidency, and the first under the new Republican Congress.

The veto, Republicans have said, will only boost their argument that Obama is obstructing “common sense” legislation that will create jobs.

Earlier this week, Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Black ties and french fries mingle at DC's Meridian Ball GOP seeks to block ObamaCare settlements with insurers MORE (R-Wyo.) told The Hill that the new Republican majority will continue sending the president bills that make him choose between “hard-working Americans” and “extremists on the left.”

Republicans and pipeline developer TransCanada have also said even if Obama rejects the pipeline, it will still be built.

TransCanada has said shippers and producers in Canada don't plan to give up on the pipeline and will reapply if Obama rejects it.

Updated at 2:06 p.m.