President Obama is poised to reject GOP-backed legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline with a swift veto designed to minimize any distraction from a looming shutdown within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Republicans plan to send the bill to Obama’s desk Tuesday morning and intend to flay the president over his promised veto.
But quick action, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said, “eliminates any opportunity to take the focus off the bizarre things Republicans are doing on DHS and immigration orders.”
“It would be smart to do it right away,” he said. “The longer they delay it, the longer Republicans are allowed to work on two or three issues at the same time.”
The GOP and some Democratic supporters of the pipeline, however, warn that the president’s rejection of the bill won’t be the last word in the long-running fight over the project.
“We’ll soon learn where American workers and energy independence fall on President Obama’s priority list,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
Republicans are already weighing their next moves, and at the top of that list is a likely attempt to override the veto.
First, the GOP is hoping to win this week’s messaging game after waiting to send the Keystone bill to Obama until after Congress’s Presidents Day recess.
“We didn’t send the bill up last week because we wanted to be here when we sent it because we expect him to veto it,” said Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Senate Republicans call on Biden to lift vaccine mandate for truckers crossing Canadian border Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Native solar startups see business as activism MORE (R-N.D.).
Republican leaders warned Obama on Tuesday he is “sadly mistaken” if he thinks a veto is the end of the fight.
In an op-ed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHow Cruz Supreme Court case could lead to unlimited anonymous election spending Trump and Biden should stop denigrating US elections The Armageddon elections to come MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE (R-Ohio) urge the president to sign legislation approving the $8 billion oil sands project, but threaten to continue the fight if he doesn't.
"The allure of appeasing environmental extremists may be too powerful for the president to ignore," they wrote. "But the president is sadly mistaken if he thinks vetoing this bill will end this fight. Far from it."
"We are just getting started."
The White House signaled Monday that Obama would make quick work of rejecting the legislation.
“I would anticipate, as we’ve been saying for years, that the president will veto that legislation, and he will, so I would not anticipate a lot of drama or fanfare around it,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
“I wouldn’t anticipate a lengthy delay” on a veto, he added, hinting at a quick rejection of the bill.
Grijalva called the Keystone bill a “test” and Obama’s chance to show the Republican-controlled Congress that he will stick to his word.
“He is going to get a bunch of these,” Grijalva said of bills meant to draw a veto, which he said could include a Department of Homeland Security funding bill with language on immigration and an education bill opposed by Democrats.
“So this is his chance to show in a definite strong way, ‘I told you no, and this is no.’ This is where the influence and power of the White House comes into play.”
Last month, Republicans pulled out all the stops after taking control of the Senate, making the $8 billion oil sands pipeline project their first order of business in the 114th Congress. Republicans plan to highlight Obama’s use of veto power as evidence of obstructionism.
Asked if Obama would downplay the veto to put the spotlight back on the pending DHS shutdown, Hoeven said “absolutely, because he knows that this is an issue Americans overwhelming support.”
Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say change to filibuster just a matter of time The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Biden hits one-year mark in dire straits MORE (D-Nev.), called the GOP plans a futile attempt to shift focus off the DHS.
“If Republicans think anything short of averting a shutdown will shift the focus from a potential Homeland Security shutdown on Friday, they are fooling themselves,” Jentleson said.
The Keystone showdown comes as the pipeline has lost some traction among the public. In January, support dropped to 41 percent, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
Still, Republicans are ready for the veto and assessing their options.
“First thing we will do is talk to our colleagues on the other side of the aisle,” Hoeven said. “We may bring it back and try to override it. We will do work there and assess where we are at on votes.”
For opponents of the pipeline, the expected veto marks the beginning of the next phase of the fight.
Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the Sierra Club, told The Hill earlier this month that after the veto, opponents will “need to make sure votes are there to sustain that veto.”
Right now, 63 senators back the pipeline, but 67 would be needed to override Obama. In the House the path to a veto-proof majority — or two-thirds — is harder.
When the House approved the bill two weeks ago, it passed 270-152.
If Republicans fail to override a veto, however, it won’t mean the end of the line for Keystone.
Next up, the GOP will try to attach approval for the project to a broader energy package or an appropriations bill that is harder for the president to veto.
--This report was originally published on Feb. 23 at 9:02 p.m. and last updated on Feb. 24 at 7:56 a.m.