Energy & Environment

Landrieu, Keystone pipeline fall one vote short in Senate drama

Greg Nash

Legislation to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline failed in the Senate on Tuesday, delivering what could be a fatal blow to Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) reelection campaign.

The measure was defeated 59-41, falling a single vote short of the supermajority necessary for passage.

All of the “no” votes came from Democrats, and they included all of the Senate Democratic leadership.

That raised immediate questions about why Democrats had decided to grant Landrieu her wish for a vote on the Keystone legislation in the first place, because its defeat by one vote will likely be used by Rep. Bill Cassidy (La.), her GOP opponent, in television advertisements in the weeks-long campaign ahead of their Dec. 6 runoff. 

Landrieu expressed disappointment after the vote but didn’t point her finger at leadership for the defeat.

“There is no blame, only joy in the fight. Where I come from we just never talk about quitting,” she said.

But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who backed Landrieu’s effort, questioned the strategy.

“I think the question you ask is would Republicans leave somebody hanging like that on their side,” Manchin said when asked if Democrats did enough to help Landrieu get to 60.

Manchin said he believed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was “genuine” in the decision to allow Landrieu the vote.

“I just thought it would have been easy for a couple of them to give her a vote,” he said.

Fourteen Democrats sided with Landrieu, including several who were defeated in this month’s elections: Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.).

Her other supporters were mostly Democratic centrists, such as Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), who will head the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm in the next cycle.

Nearly all of the 41 Democrats who voted no came from the liberal wing of the party, including Reid, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), and Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who heads the party’s messaging effort in the chamber.

Durbin was seen as a possible fence-sitter, and Keystone’s supporters had hoped he might cast the decisive vote.

“Dick struggled with it, I could tell. He’s a very compassionate person, and I knew that was weighing on him pretty heavy,” Manchin said following the vote.

Sen. Mark Udall (Colo.), a fourth Democratic incumbent defeated earlier this month, also voted no.

But his colleague Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), who headed the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm in the 2014 cycle, backed Landrieu and the pipeline.

Manchin argued that Landrieu’s success in convincing Reid and Schumer to allow the vote shows why Louisiana’s voters should return her to the Senate. Landrieu is the chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“I’ve been able to see in the short time Mary has been chairman that we are able to move things forward and have discussions that we’ve never had before,” Manchin said after the vote. “We never had these debates before. And her coming back as ranking minority is important.”

Even if the legislation had cleared the Senate, it faced a near certain veto from President Obama.

But that would have been a better result for Landrieu, who has sought to portray herself as a critic of the White House.

The loss on the Senate floor was arguably worse than if there had not been a vote at all, particularly given the heart-breaking nature, for Landrieu, of losing by the narrowest margin possible.

The pipeline would deliver crude from Alberta’s oil sands to the Gulf Coast. Proponents argue it would create jobs and make the United States less reliant on fuel from outside North America, while opponents argue it would add to global warming.

Green groups have made killing Keystone one of their top priorities, and the Senate failure is a victory for them.

Tom Steyer, the hedge fund manager turned environmental activist who has financed green campaigns around the country, celebrated the win.

“This is a legacy-defining issue where one’s position signifies whether they are standing up for or against the next generation on the issue of climate — and with today’s vote, the Senate chose to stand up for the American people,” he said.

Environmentalists pushed back hard against the vote, protesting inside Sen. Tom Carper’s (D-Del.) and Bennet’s offices on Tuesday, calling on them to vote against the pipeline.

Four demonstrators were arrested at Carper’s office.

Ahead of the dramatic vote, the White House avoided an explicit veto threat, even as a spokesman for Obama made it clear the president opposed the measure.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a strong opponent of the project, said the argument that the pipeline would be a jobs producer was “phony baloney.”

“Don’t unleash the dirtiest oil known to mankind when the CEO of the company says it will mean 50 jobs,” Boxer said. “If this is really about jobs, let’s pass a transportation bill and do things that really help people.”

Though the bill failed in this vote, it is expected that a Republican Senate will bring it back in January.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during Tuesday’s debate fired back at Boxer that “Keystone XL is just common sense.”

“It would increase our supply of North American energy. And it would do all that with minimal net climate impact. That’s why the American people support it,” he said on the Senate floor.

“Republicans are committed to getting Keystone approved. A new majority is committed to acting next year,” McConnell added.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday said Obama would be calling the American voters “stupid” if he vetoed Keystone legislation.

The House last week approved identical Keystone legislation that was sponsored by Cassidy.

The only other time the Senate has tried to corner Obama on the pipeline was in 2011, after a measure requiring him to make a decision within 60 days was attached to a spending bill. Obama rejected it shortly after.


Ramsey Cox contributed to this report.

Updated at 7:40 p.m.

Tags Keystone XL pipeline Mary Landrieu

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