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 McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters 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 BoxerBarbara Boxer recounts harassment on Capitol Hill: ‘The entire audience started laughing’ 100 years of the Blue Slip courtesy Four more lawmakers say they’ve been sexually harassed by colleagues in Congress 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 SchumerAmerica isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ GOP should reject the left's pessimism and the deficit trigger MORE (N.Y.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowThe Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Democrats to Trump: Ask Forest Service before shrinking monuments 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 ReidBill O'Reilly: Politics helped kill Kate Steinle, Zarate just pulled the trigger Tax reform is nightmare Déjà vu for Puerto Rico Ex-Obama and Reid staffers: McConnell would pretend to be busy to avoid meeting with Obama 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 InhofeGOP senator on backing Moore: ‘It’s a numbers game’ Overnight Energy: Panel advances controversial Trump nominee | Ex-coal boss Blankenship to run for Senate | Dem commissioner joins energy regulator Senate panel advances controversial environmental nominee 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) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (I-Vt.).

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenMcConnell works to salvage tax bill GOP to reduce tax relief by 0B to win over deficit hawks  The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill 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 CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 MORE (R-Texas) that would lift the decades-old ban on crude oil exports.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments GOP on verge of opening Arctic refuge to drilling 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 MarkeyNet neutrality supporters predict tough court battle over FCC's repeal plan Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Driverless car bill hits Senate speed bump 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 PortmanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him How four GOP senators guided a tax-bill victory behind the scenes MORE’s (R-Ohio) energy efficiency bill.

Amendments were still coming in on Tuesday evening, including one from Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerUS trade deficit rises on record imports from China Flake, GOP senators to meet with Trump on trade Senate nixes provision boosting conservative college after uproar 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.