House to vote before Memorial Day on Keystone pipeline

House GOP leaders will bring legislation to the floor before Memorial Day to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and have assigned it the number H.R. 3, signifying the importance of the measure, a top Republican said Friday.

“H.R. 3 is really about one thing. It is about energy independence for North America,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said at a bicameral press conference with several Republicans and centrist Democrats.

Leaders of the GOP-controlled House assign the lowest bill numbers to measures that reflect top political and policy priorities. H.R. 1 has been set aside for comprehensive tax reform.

“It shows ... the significance the leadership puts into this legislation and our intent is to bring it to the floor before Memorial Day,” Upton said.

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The lawmakers held a press conference in the Capitol urging approval of Keystone ahead of President Obama’s energy policy speech on Friday outside of Chicago.

“I know the president is in his home state of Illinois today and he is going to talk about energy issues, and I think this is one of the key parts of any energy package or plan or vision,” said Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) the lead sponsor of the latest bill to green-light TransCanada Corp.’s proposed pipeline.

The pipeline would bring oil from Canadian oil sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries. The State Department is weighing whether to grant a cross-border permit, but the final call is expected to come from the West Wing.

Obama will speak Friday at the Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory, where he will tout his proposal to steer some revenue from oil-and-gas production into programs to help develop alternative fuel and vehicle technologies.

Reps. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), John Barrow (D-Ga.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) joined the pro-Keystone event alongside Upton and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.).

House Republicans, with support from centrist and oil-state Democrats, have repeatedly passed measures to expedite the federal decision or outright approve Keystone.

The project presents a political quandary for Obama because it divides his political base — a number of unions have joined business groups in backing the project, while environmentalists strongly oppose it.

Hoeven, backed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and mix of about a dozen other Democrats and Republicans, this week introduced his latest bill to approve Keystone.

He predicted the bill will have more than 50 sponsors “very soon” and said he’s exploring ways to secure a floor vote, although noted that the GOP does not control the chamber.

“We are looking at what vehicles we might attach it to,” Hoeven said, adding that backers are working with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Baucus, who Hoeven said is in turn working with other Democrats.

In 2012, Hoeven’s plan to force approval of Keystone failed 56-42 when 60 votes were needed for approval, a vote that followed President Obama’s personal lobbying of some Democrats to oppose the measure.

Asked Friday if the bill could attract 60 votes, Hoeven said, “We’re in that mid-50 range, I don’t know yet.”

“That is why we are working to build support,” Hoeven said Friday.

In January, nine Senate Democrats joined Republicans on a letter calling for approval of the project.

While bills to force approval are unlikely to reach Obama’s desk and would likely face White House opposition, they nonetheless provide a political rallying point for backers to pressure the administration.