Grueling Keystone fight to hit new Senate

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Senators are bracing for a debate over legislation on the Keystone XL pipeline that could take weeks to conclude, setting up an early test of GOP leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Senate confirms Trump's border chief House leaves out ObamaCare fix from must-pass funding bill MORE’s pledge to allow “regular order” in the upper chamber. 

McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday threatened a midnight vote before senators agreed to move forward on the pipeline bill, and could soon turn to late nights and weekend work to muscle through a stack of amendments.

With Republicans eager to pass the Keystone bill and move on to other priorities, Democrats are warning 

McConnell not to back away from his pledge to allow an open amendment process — no matter how long it takes.

“[As] a leader you are known for your word. You break your word and it says a lot,” Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe ‘bang for the buck’ theory fueling Trump’s infrastructure plan Kamala Harris endorses Gavin Newsom for California governor Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response MORE (D-Calif.) said.

One Senate Democratic aide said the caucus is “pushing very strongly” for amendments to the Keystone bill and there is “a lot of interest in moving forward” with measures floated by leading Democratic Sens. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerConscience protections for health-care providers should be standard Pension committee must deliver on retirement promise Dem super PAC launches ad defending Donnelly on taxes MORE (N.Y.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenators target 'gag clauses' that hide potential savings on prescriptions Nonprofit leaders look to continue work with lawmakers to strengthen charitable giving 10 Senate Democrats are up for reelection in Trump country MORE (Mich.).

The aide said Democrats would use their retreat this week to settle on a game plan for the debate, which they expect to “go on for the next few weeks.”

Speculation about the ground rules for the amendment process ran rampant on Tuesday as Senate aides publicly clashed over how many had been offered and by which party. 

“FYI: Still no amendments filed by Democrats to the #KeystoneXL infrastructure bill,” McConnell’s spokesman Don Stewart tweeted. 

The communications director for Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump presses GOP to change Senate rules Only thing Defense’s UFO probe proves is power of political favors Nevada Democrat accused of sexual harassment reconsiders retirement: report MORE (D-Nev.) shot back: “Not true. There are three times as many Democratic amendments filed to Keystone as Republican amendments.”

The escalating tensions pose a challenge for McConnell, who has promised to restore the power of individual senators in the legislative process by keeping a light grip on the floor.

“The Senate is out of practice here,” McConnell quipped when asked if he would block amendments. 

“We are not trying to block anybody’s amendment. We are trying to gin up business.”

Democrats are aiming to use the amendment process to force Republicans into a number of tough votes, including on whether to back an amendment that states man-made climate change is happening.

Asked if the Republican caucus was ready to take that vote, McConnell said, “Yeah!”

Republican Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenators to Trump: Keep pressure on North Korea while exploring talks Why did this administration back the Palestine Liberation Organization in terrorism case? Overnight Defense: Top general says countering Iran in Syria isn't US mission | Trump, Boeing reach 'informal' agreement for new Air Force One | Chair warns of Russian mercenaries in Syria MORE (Okla.), the Senate’s leading climate change skeptic, said there was no reason to shy away from the vote.

“I think it’s fine to come to a vote. I think sooner or later you got to weigh in on these issues and this might be the opportunity,” Inhofe said of the climate change measure, which is being pushed by Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSenate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Sanders supporters cancel Clinton protest Congress moving to end US involvement in Yemen MORE (I-Vt.).

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenTrump’s economic policies spur GOP angst Crop sale incentive program is wrong policy for trade and security Sen. Steve Daines knows the ski slopes, residents MORE (R-N.D.) echoed that sentiment.

“I am open to amendments that either side wants to bring forward,” Hoeven said.

Sanders’s amendment is just the beginning of an avalanche likely to hit the Senate floor in the coming days.

McConnell’s vow to work under regular order has opened the floodgates, with both Democrats and Republicans filing amendments.

One proposal that could divide the Republican caucus is an amendment from Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Tech: Facebook faces crisis over Cambridge Analytica data | Lawmakers demand answers | What to watch for next | Day one of AT&T's merger trial | Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian The case for a new branch of the military: United States Space Force The problem with hindsight MORE (R-Texas) that would lift the decades-old ban on crude oil exports.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiProposed budget for Indian Health Services won't treat Native American patients equally Keep anti-environment riders for Alaska out of spending bill Industry should comply with the Methane Waste Prevention Rule MORE (R-Alaska), a staunch supporter of repealing the ban, said Cruz’s amendment “might complicate” the process for the Keystone vote.

“What we do with it remains to be seen. I’m going to talk to Sen. Cruz as I will talk to all others who will be offering amendments. You may be introducing amendments to make a message, make a point and then choose to withdraw,” Murkowski said.

The Senate moved to consider three amendments to the Keystone bill Tuesday, including measures from Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyCambridge Analytica: Five things to watch Overnight Defense: US 'deeply concerned' after Turkey takes Syrian city | Trump, Saudi crown prince to talk Russia | Saudi energy deal sparks concern Coalition presses Transportation Dept. for stricter oversight of driverless cars MORE (D-Mass.) to ban the export of oil shipped through the $8 billion Keystone pipeline and provisions taken from Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMisinformation campaign is at the center of opposition to common sense sex trafficking legislation This week: Congress races to prevent third shutdown With bills on the table, Congress must heed the call to fix our national parks MORE’s (R-Ohio) energy efficiency bill.

Amendments were still coming in on Tuesday evening, including one from Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerBill to bolster gun background checks gains enough support to break filibuster Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA US trade deficit rises on record imports from China MORE (R-Neb.) that could be seen as a counter to the Sanders amendment.

Her proposal would prohibit the consideration of greenhouse gas emissions in the federal environmental review process for infrastructure and energy projects.

McConnell’s office remained adamant on Tuesday that Sanders’s climate change bill would not be blocked and that more amendments would be considered on top of the three pending.