Dem Keystone support creates tougher fight for Reid, Obama

Republicans want to jam Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSanders courts GOP voters with 'Medicare for All' plan Glamorization of the filibuster must end Schumer won't rule out killing filibuster 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 LandrieuDems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world Former New Orleans mayor: It's not my 'intention' to run for president 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) Tester20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology 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 BoehnerTrump appears alongside Ocasio-Cortez on Time 100 list Resurrecting deliberative bodies Trump's decision on health care law puts spotlight on Mulvaney 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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Overnight Health Care: McConnell offering bill to raise tobacco-buying age to 21 | NC gov vetoes 'born alive' abortion bill | CMS backs off controversial abortion proposal HR 1 brings successful local, state reforms to the federal level and deserves passage MORE (R-Ky.) said Friday afternoon that he and BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTrump appears alongside Ocasio-Cortez on Time 100 list Resurrecting deliberative bodies Trump's decision on health care law puts spotlight on Mulvaney 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 Cornyn Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Trump struggles to reshape Fed Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks 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 McCaskillBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Gillibrand, Grassley reintroduce campus sexual assault bill Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate MORE (Mo.), Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester MORE (Mont.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark BegichMark Peter BegichFormer GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lobbying world Dem governors on 2020: Opposing Trump not enough MORE (Alaska), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections MORE (W.Va.), Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (Ark.), Kay HaganKay Ruthven Hagan Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 NC state senator meets with DSCC as Dems eye challenge to Tillis GOP, Dems locked in fight over North Carolina fraud probe MORE (N.C.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerGOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Hillicon Valley: Trump unveils initiatives to boost 5G | What to know about the Assange case | Pelosi warns tech of 'new era' in regulation | Dem eyes online hate speech bill Warner looking at bills to limit hate speech, have more data portability on social media MORE (Va.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDemocratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer We can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's Bipartisan senators offer bill to expand electric vehicle tax credit MORE (Mich.) and Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyLicense to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate 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.