Senate votes to build Keystone, defying veto threat from Obama

The Senate on Thursday voted 62-36 to build the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, delivering Republicans the first legislative victory of their new majority.

Nine Democrats joined with Republicans in voting to approve the $8 billion project, five votes short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a promised veto from President Obama.

The nine Democrats who voted to approve Keystone were Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Next crisis, keep people working and give them raises MORE (Colo.), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperDemocrat asks for probe of EPA's use of politically appointed lawyers Overnight Energy: Study links coronavirus mortality to air pollution exposure | Low-income, minority households pay more for utilities: report OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push resolution to battle climate change, sluggish economy and racial injustice | Senators reach compromise on greenhouse gas amendment stalling energy bill | Trump courts Florida voters with offshore drilling moratorium MORE (Del.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySecond GOP senator to quarantine after exposure to coronavirus GAO report finds brokers offered false info on coverage for pre-existing conditions Catholic group launches .7M campaign against Biden targeting swing-state voters MORE Jr. (Pa.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampCentrists, progressives rally around Harris pick for VP 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinBiden promises Democratic senators help in battleground states Senate leaders quash talk of rank-and-file COVID-19 deal OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocratic-linked group runs ads in Kansas GOP Senate primary Trump mocked for low attendance at rally Missouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties MORE (Mo.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPence seeks to boost Daines in critical Montana Senate race This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans Filibuster fight looms if Democrats retake Senate MORE (Mont.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerIntelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' House approves bill to secure internet-connected federal devices against cyber threats MORE (Va.).

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFlorida senators pushing to keep Daylight Savings Time during pandemic Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts Chinese, Malaysian hackers accused of targeting over 100 organizations | GOP senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal | QAnon awareness jumps in new poll Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings MORE (R-Fla.), who is traveling, missed the vote, as did Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSenate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden Mellman: The likely voter sham Bottom line MORE (D-Nev.), who is recovering from eye surgery.

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The bill now heads to the House, where Republicans are determined to act quickly to force Obama into taking what they believe will be a politically unpopular stand against a project that would carry oil sands from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE (R-Ky.) took a victory lap ahead of the vote, boasting the upper chamber was about to pass “an extraordinarily important jobs bill for our country.”

The Senate, he declared, is ready to “work hard for the middle class, even in the teeth of opposition from powerful special interests.”

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLongtime House parliamentarian to step down Five things we learned from this year's primaries Bad blood between Pelosi, Meadows complicates coronavirus talks MORE (R-Ohio) chimed in with praise from the other side of the Capitol.

“I’d like to congratulate Sen. McConnell for passing this bill in an open, inclusive and bipartisan way,” BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLongtime House parliamentarian to step down Five things we learned from this year's primaries Bad blood between Pelosi, Meadows complicates coronavirus talks MORE said in a statement. “After dropping his scheme to tax middle-class college savings, we hope President Obama will now drop his threat to veto this common-sense bill.”

But while the Senate was the biggest hurdle for the Keystone bill, the legislation still has a ways to go before reaching Obama’s desk.

While the House voted to build the pipeline earlier this year, the Senate added several amendments to the legislation during three weeks of work, the byproduct of McConnell’s promise to give individual members more input on the floor.

Aides said House Republicans have not decided whether to pass the Senate bill as is or seek a conference committee, where a final version would be negotiated between the chambers.

Obama has repeatedly warned Congress not to short-circuit the federal review of the pipeline and seems poised to issue the third veto of his presidency when the legislation hits his desk.

"If, in fact, the legislation that passed the House also passes the Senate, then the president won't sign it," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.

The earliest the Keystone bill could reach Obama would be next week — just as the State Department receives final comments on the proposal to build the pipeline.

Agencies are required to send their recommendations about the pipeline to the State Department on Feb. 2, bringing the six-yearlong review of the Canada-to-Texas project one step closer to completion.

It’s possible that the Keystone bill and Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Memo: Warning signs flash for Trump on debates Divided country, divided church TV ads favored Biden 2-1 in past month MORE’s recommendation on whether the project is in the national interest could reach Obama simultaneously, potentially helping the president avoid a veto that would anger some centrist Democrats and labor unions.

For Republicans, who have fought for years to get the cross-border pipeline approved, Thursday’s Senate vote served as the opening salvo in what they say will be a dedicated effort to pass job-creating legislation that grows the economy.

"We are hoping the president, upon reflection, will sign agree to sign onto a bill that his State Department says could creates 42,000 jobs," McConnell said.

Senators from both parties appeared relieved to reach the end of the nearly monthlong debate over Keystone, which began within hours of the 114th Congress gaveling to session on Jan. 5.

Except for “one horrible Thursday” session, which ran into the midnight hour, “it was a good process,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled Senate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden Top GOP senator calls for Biden to release list of possible Supreme Court picks MORE (D-Ill.).

During that late-night scrap, Democrats railed against Republicans after a series of 18 amendment votes ended with McConnell tabling five and moving to end debate, which they considered premature.

Republican Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanRomney undecided on authorizing subpoenas for GOP Obama-era probes Congress needs to prioritize government digital service delivery House passes B bill to boost Postal Service MORE (R-Ohio) called the midnight session a “hiccup” in the Senate’s return to “regular order.”

The fight over amendments to the Keystone bill generated some dramatic moments on the floor.

During the second week of debate, the Senate voted 98-1 that “climate change is real and not a hoax,” after Democrats pushed to get Republicans on record about the politically charged topic ahead of the 2016 elections.

Fifteen Republicans voted for another amendment, which failed, that stated humans contribute to climate change.

Republicans, meanwhile, used the amendment process to assail Obama’s greenhouse gas emissions deal with China and his move to protect 1.5 million acres of Alaska wilderness from oil and gas development.

In all, out of 43 amendment votes — more, Republicans touted, than were held all of last year under the Democratic majority — only six were approved and attached to the underlying bill. Two of the adopted amendments promote energy efficiency and energy retrofitting at schools, while another deals with an oil spill trust fund.

“There is a feeling we should entertain a lot of different ideas. That is what the majority leader promised, and I hope we stand by it,” Durbin said.

— Updated at 4:23 p.m.