Republican hints at Keystone backup plan

Republicans have a backup plan for approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline if President Obama vetoes the bill now moving through the Senate, a top House Republican suggested Wednesday.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) struck a positive tone about the pipeline fight in a radio interview, suggesting the GOP could have other ways to secure a veto-proof majority for the pipeline.

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"He may veto this thing and we may not have the votes to overturn it, but he is going to see it on a transportation infrastructure bill and we're going to give it to him with 400 votes," Sessions said on the Dallas-Fort Worth-area “Mark Davis Radio Show.”

"We are going to get Keystone pipeline because, Mark, it represents so many attributes that we've been fighting about and that Americans need."

Senators are working through a series of amendments to a Keystone bill that passed the House earlier this month, with work expected to stretch on for weeks under Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDoug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh Kavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week GOP, Kavanaugh accuser struggle to reach deal MORE’s (R-Ky.) “open amendment” process.

While the Keystone bill is expected to pass, the White House has made clear that Obama will veto it, arguing the State Department’s review of the Canada-to-Texas pipeline should be allowed to run its course.

Republicans appear short of the two-thirds majority they would need in the House and Senate to override a veto, but have other tools for trying to revive the fight in the months ahead.

If they could get a Keystone provision into a larger transportation bill that passes Congress, it would create a tough choice for Obama, who has repeatedly stressed the need for spending on infrastructure.

Reacting to Obama’s State of the Union speech, Sessions also said that the Senate should use every available option to pass measures overturning the president's executive actions on immigration. 

“Let’s not kid ourselves, it takes 60 [senators] or, they have to go through a deliberative process," he said on the radio show, recounting a conversation he had with Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills MORE (R-Wis.).

"I said, 'Go through the deliberative process, you do whatever it takes. We’ve done our job.' "

Sessions helped shepherd last week's bill defunding the president's actions through the House, where it passed on a near party-line vote. Ten Republicans voted against the measure, which would halt deferred deportations for millions of illegal immigrants who can now apply for work permits.

The funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security, which was the vehicle Republicans used to combat the executive action, would also roll back the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, which defers deportations for some people who arrived in the United States as children.

While the DHS measure flew through the House, the path ahead is uncertain for Senate Republicans.

GOP lawmakers could try to woo Democratic colleagues to support the DHS bill by granting them amendments, but even then it’s unlikely they would have enough support to break through a Democratic filibuster.

Still, Sessions said that he's happy the new leaders in the upper chamber will force debate on the issue.