On the stump, Senate Dem candidates split with Obama over Keystone pipeline

On the stump, Senate Dem candidates split with Obama over Keystone pipeline

President Obama has steered clear of taking a firm stance on the Keystone pipeline, but many Democrats running for Senate don’t have the same luxury.

Eight of the 18 non-incumbent Democrats running for Senate surveyed by The Hill either steadfastly support the pipeline or oppose it outright, breaking with Obama’s decision to reserve judgment on the project until federal regulators conduct a full review.

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Republican Senate hopefuls have made the pipeline — which would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast — a top campaign issue. The emphasis on the pipeline has forced many Democratic candidates to stake out a clear position on the project, whether they like it or not.

TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline has ignited a firestorm in Washington.

The president denied a cross-border permit for the pipeline in January, infuriating Republicans and launching a thorny political debate in Congress that has forced vulnerable Senate Democrats to weigh in on the project. But Obama has said his decision to reject the pipeline was based not on its merits, but on a 60-day, GOP-backed deadline included in legislation to extend the payroll tax cut.

As gas prices near a national average of $4 per gallon, the Keystone fight on Capitol Hill has spread to the campaign trail, even in states that are nowhere near the pipeline route.

Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) has attacked his opponent, Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Warren4 reasons why Trump can't be written off — yet Here are top contenders to be Biden's VP Kamala Harris to young Black women at conference: 'I want you to be ambitious' MORE (D), for opposing the project.

“Elizabeth Warren is an ‘energy elitist’ who thinks we can power our country on renewable sources alone,” Jim Barnett, Brown’s campaign manager, said in a statement last week.

“Even with Massachusetts motorists shelling out nearly four dollars a gallon at the pump, she opposes key efforts to increase our supply of oil, including construction of the Keystone pipeline, which will not only help bring down gas prices but also create thousands of good construction jobs,” Barnett said.

Warren, whose office confirmed that she opposes the pipeline, hit back at Brown, painting him as a pawn of Big Oil for opposing legislation to repeal $24 billion in tax breaks for the largest oil companies over the next decade.

Warren is one of five non-incumbent Democrats running for Senate who are on the record as opposing the pipeline, according to a review by The Hill.

Three Democratic candidates support the pipeline, including Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE, who is hoping to replace retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). Heitkamp blasted Obama in January for rejecting the cross-border permit for the pipeline, which would run through North Dakota.

But not all the candidates have staked out a clear position on the pipeline. Six of the candidates, including the Independent Angus KingAngus KingThe Susan Collins conundrum Trump ramps up China tensions with consulate shutdown Congress backs push for national cyber czar MORE of Maine, stand firmly behind Obama's stance that the project needs a full review before a decision can be made.

One example is former Virginia Gov. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineFrustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Pompeo defers to Justice on question of Trump election tweet Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election MORE (D), who is hoping to replace retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D).

“Just because Congress forced a rushed decision, however, does not mean the review of this project needs to stop,” Kaine said in a statement after Obama rejected the Keystone permit in January. “I hope that the administration will continue to examine this project and offer its thoughts on how it can be safely accomplished.”

Kaine’s Republican opponent, former Gov. George Allen, has blasted Kaine for supporting Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone permit. But Kaine’s office stresses that he does not oppose the project; he just wants to ensure it is subjected to adequate oversight.

Some Democrats running for Senate have avoided taking a public position on the project altogether, underscoring the political sensitivities surrounding the pipeline.

One of the most notable examples is former Nebraska Gov. Bob Kerrey, who is hoping to take over for retiring Sen. Ben Nelson (D).

"It may be that that genie's out of the bottle already, and if you're down to a choice of summarily shipping it west and having it end up being sent to China or shipping it south and used by the United States, it's probably difficult to oppose it at this point," Kerrey told The Omaha World-Herald last month.

"But I haven't reached an absolute decision on it."

Keystone has become an explosive political issue in Nebraska, amid concerns that the project could pollute an environmentally sensitive region of the state. But project developer TransCanada has vowed to determine a route around the region, easing many Nebraska officials’ concerns.

Three Democratic Senate hopefuls did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Hill.

The Hill reviewed candidates' publicly stated positions on the pipeline. When no position was available, The Hill reached out to candidates’ offices for comment.

Republicans have used Obama’s January Keystone decision to launch broader assaults on Obama’s energy policies, arguing the president isn’t doing enough to ensure the country has enough access to North American oil.

The White House, which did not respond to a request for comment on this story, has worked furiously to undercut the Republican attacks.

Obama touted his “all-of-the-above” energy plan during a four-state tour last month. During a stop in Cushing, Okla., Obama underscored his support for the southern portion of the pipeline project, but stressed that the rest of the project needs further review.

A breakdown of where the 18 non-incumbent Democratic Senate hopefuls stand regarding the Keystone XL pipeline:


Supports Keystone:
Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.)
Shelley Berkley (Nev.) — if oil from the pipeline stays in the United States
Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (Ind.)


Opposes Keystone:
Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOVERNIGHT ENERGY: 20 states sue over Trump rule limiting states from blocking pipeline projects | House Democrats add 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking big amendment | Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money following Treasury delays The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Rodney Davis says most important thing White House can do on COVID-19 is give consistent messaging; US new cases surpass 50k for first time MORE (N.M.)
Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyConnecticut senators call for Subway to ban open carry of firearms Democrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal MORE (Conn.)
Elizabeth Warren (Mass.)
Susan Bysiewicz (Conn.)
Pete Ashdown (Utah)


Backs Obama decision to subject pipeline to more review:
Tim Kaine (Va.)
Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBiden: I'll have a running mate picked next week The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided GOP to unveil COVID-19 bill Biden strikes populist tone in blistering rebuke of Trump, Wall Street MORE (Wis.)
Ed Case (Hawaii)
Hector Balderas (N.M.)
Angus King (I-Maine)
Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoOvernight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw Hillicon Valley: Feds warn hackers targeting critical infrastructure | Twitter exploring subscription service | Bill would give DHS cyber agency subpoena power MORE (Hawaii)


Undecided:
Bob Kerrey (Neb.)


Unclear:
Richard Carmona (Ariz.)
William Tong (Conn.)
Paul Sadler (Texas)

—Josh Fatzick contributed to this story.