Obama faces tough Keystone call

President Obama is suddenly facing a difficult decision about whether to veto legislation authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline.

While signing a bill could boost Democratic Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth MORE in her runoff battle in Louisiana, greenlighting the project would be a slap in the face to environmental groups who have fought for years to kill the project.


Further complicating matters, rejecting the bill — a step the White House has suggested is likely — would set the stage for a new Keystone fight in January, when Senate Republicans might have enough votes to override a presidential veto altogether.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Key Democrat says traveler fees should fund infrastructure projects Senate confirms Biden's pick to lead White House environmental council MORE (D-Del.), who on Thursday pledged support for the Keystone bill that is coming up for a vote in the Senate next week, said it’s time for Obama to approve the pipeline and move on.

“As far as what the president has accomplished [on climate change] it is a huge step forward,” Carper said, citing the climate deal struck with China this week. “I think he should declare victory.”

“Let’s clear the decks and start working on other things instead of arguing about Keystone.”

The possibility of a Keystone bill reaching Obama’s desk has put environmental groups on edge, with several issuing statements urging the president to stand firm against the Canada-to-Texas pipeline.

The activist group CREDO is circulating a petition calling on the president to veto any bill Congress sends to his desk, adding it would be a “make-or-break moment for the president’s legacy on climate.”

The Keystone votes are served with a heavy dose of election politics, as the chief sponsor in the House — Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) — is seeking to unseat Landrieu in a runoff election scheduled for Dec. 6.

Democrats, meanwhile, are moving forward with a Keystone vote to help Landrieu, the underdog in the runoff.

Landrieu and allies claim they are close to the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and get their bill through the Senate. Cassidy's identical Keystone bill is expected to pass the House on Friday.

If the Keystone bill does pass both chambers, the ball will be in Obama’s court.

Signing the bill would have political upside, as polling shows there is broad public support for the pipeline, with 59 percent of Americans favoring its construction, according to Pew Research. 

But signing Keystone legislation would be a major reversal, as Obama has long insisted that the inter-agency review of the project must be allowed to run its course.

On Thursday press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration still has a “dim view” of bills forcing action on Keystone, and last week, Obama reiterated he wants to let the “independent process” at the State Department “play out.”

Environmentalists interpret those statements as signaling a veto if Congress sends a bill to the president’s desk.

League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said everything Obama has said indicates he will reject a bill.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Karpinski told reporters on Thursday during a quick visit to the Capitol. “He has been consistent on fighting climate change and consistent on saying I’m not going to have a vote in the Senate override the State Department.”

“We remain extremely confident that the president will reject it if it gets to his desk,” he added.

Senate Republicans are pressing Obama to take a firm stand for or against the bill.

“Multiple attempts to have the Senate vote to approve the pipeline over the past two years have been rejected by Democratic leadership prior to the recent November election,” Senate Republican leaders wrote in a letter to Obama on Thursday. “Now that they are planning to hold a vote, it is essential that we understand your position on this legislation.”

Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Biden to tap Erika Moritsugu as new Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison White House races clock to beat GOP attacks MORE (D-Nev.), said the White House's refusal to explicitly issue a veto threat is suspicious.

"Were going to have to wait and see who wins, but my rule of thumb is, whenever you don’t explicitly throw out a veto — my immediate reaction when I heard those words were, OK, he’s open to [the bill]," Manley said.

Manley said signing the bill could be "a gesture to Republicans he's willing to compromise."

"I’ve got five bucks that says he signs it."

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenBiden to hold second meeting with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructure OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies Senate GOP pushes back on list of participants in oil and gas leasing forum MORE (R-N.D.), who is working with Landrieu to round up votes, said he isn’t convinced Obama would sign off on Keystone.

Still, he added, “I think it is a tough one.”

Justin Sink contributed to this report.