Dem Keystone support creates tougher fight for Reid, Obama

Republicans want to jam Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill Kamala Harris to young Black women at conference: 'I want you to be ambitious' Obama calls filibuster 'Jim Crow relic,' backs new Voting Rights Act bill MORE (D-Nev.) on the Keystone oil sands pipeline and the Democratic leader will have a tough time resisting, given support within his caucus for the project.

GOP leaders have made clear to Reid that they will not approve an extension of the payroll tax holiday unless it includes language to speed up construction of the pipeline.

Senate Republicans estimate as many as 14 Senate Democrats support the project. Labor unions have also voiced strong backing, complicating Reid’s endgame talks with GOP leaders.

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“I personally think the pipeline is absolutely in the national interest. It’ll help us reduce our dependence on foreign energy, at least foreign sources that are hostile to our interests,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I, for one, on this side would hope that this could be part of a final package.”

Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuBottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face MORE (D-La.) said Thursday the pipeline has more support among Democrats than her leaders acknowledge.

“It’s always had more Democratic support than people thought,” she said.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse Overnight Defense: Senate poised to pass defense bill with requirement to change Confederate base names | Key senator backs Germany drawdown | Space Force chooses 'semper supra' as motto Democrats call for expedited hearing for Trump's public lands nominee MORE (D-Mont.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday: “I am proud to again offer my support for the Keystone XL pipeline and the jobs it will create. We need a quicker decision, based on the merits of this project.”

House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBottom line Cheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future Lott says lobbying firm cut ties to prevent him from taking clients MORE (R-Ohio) told House GOP colleagues Friday morning he would force the Senate to vote on expediting Keystone by attaching it to the bill that Senate leaders are crafting on a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits.

Republicans say they will also insist on including Keystone in a yearlong extension of the payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and a one-year freeze in scheduled cuts to Medicare reimbursements.

Republican leaders see it as a juicy political issue to use against President Obama. If Democrats block it, it reinforces the GOP message that the administration’s regulatory agenda slows job growth.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day MORE (R-Ky.) said Friday afternoon that he and BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBottom line Cheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future Lott says lobbying firm cut ties to prevent him from taking clients MORE would not agree to any package extending the payroll tax holiday that did not include the Keystone language.

“There’s bipartisan support for this project and we need to get it done. We need to get it done now,” McConnell said. “The House of Representatives has been quite clear that they’re not going to support a package that does not include the pipeline. Frankly, I will not be able to support a package that doesn’t include the pipeline.”

McConnell said White House officials want to separate the Keystone pipeline from the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits but that it makes no sense to treat it in standalone legislation.

“Let’s also include something that actually helps the private sector create the jobs Americans need for the long term,” he said.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal Republicans uncomfortably playing defense Negotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts MORE (R-Texas) took to Twitter to make the same demand, proclaiming that “Keystone XL pipeline WILL be part of final tax package.”

At his briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney again criticized Republicans for inserting the “extraneous” pipeline issue into the bill, and said the State Department review process should be able to run its course. 

However, Carney declined to rule out the White House accepting a bill with Keystone provisions. “I am not going to prejudge a final product that does not yet exist,” Carney said.

Carney rejected the notion that the president's opposition to the Keystone language is political.

"What he has said is that there are criteria that must be considered...You can't approve something before you have something to review. This is a process run by the State Department...that process needs to be reviewed," Carney said. "Again, the president is not making a judgment on whether the permit should or should not be granted. But what it shouldn't be is short-circuited because folks think it ought to be. That's what that review process is all about."

State is the agency charged with the review of Keystone, and it has said it would have to reject Keystone if the House language is approved because it would not have to do a sufficient review. 

Senate Republican aides say Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocratic-linked group runs ads in Kansas GOP Senate primary Trump mocked for low attendance at rally Missouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties MORE (Mo.), Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBottom line Bottom line The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation MORE (Mont.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska political mess has legislators divided over meeting place Former GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lobbying world MORE (Alaska), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinHillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court cancels shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline | US could avoid 4.5M early deaths by fighting climate change, study finds | Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic MORE (W.Va.), Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorCoronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 Tom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Medicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 MORE (Ark.), Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's job approval erodes among groups that powered his 2016 victory MORE (N.C.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns Senate Intel panel approves final Russia report, moves toward public release MORE (Va.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls Democrats warn Biden against releasing SCOTUS list MORE (Mich.) and Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Fred Upton says it is 'tragic' to see Americans reject masks, social distancing; Russia claims it will approve COVID-19 vaccine by mid-August People with disabilities see huge job losses; will pandemic roll back ADA gains? MORE (Pa.) also support the Keystone language.

“All the trade unions, everyone’s for it, it creates thousands of jobs,” Manchin said on Fox News earlier this week.

Several Republican senators who are skeptical about the effectiveness of cutting payroll taxes to stimulate the economy say the Keystone pipeline gives them an important reason to vote for it.

Labor leaders have pushed Democratic leaders to concede on the pipeline, which is strongly opposed by environmentalists.

“Throughout America's Heartland, the Keystone Pipeline represents the prospect for 20,000 immediate jobs, and as many as 500,000 indirect jobs via a strong economic multiplier effect,” Mark Ayers, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, wrote in an opinion piece published by The Huffington Post last month.

Speaking about the ongoing negotiations on the payroll tax bill, Carney said, "There's a process at work. I'm not going to analyze what language would be acceptable and what wouldn't."

He said the president's primary focus is in getting the payroll tax bill passed.

"I'm not going to get ahead of the process," Carney said. "The president's priority is ensuring that Americans do not get that tax hike ... it's vital to the economy."


Ben Geman and Amie Parnes contributed to this report. 


This story was posted at 2:07 p.m. and was updated at 4:08 p.m.