Grueling Keystone fight to hit new Senate

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Senators are bracing for a debate over legislation on the Keystone XL pipeline that could take weeks to conclude, setting up an early test of GOP leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime MORE’s pledge to allow “regular order” in the upper chamber. 

McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday threatened a midnight vote before senators agreed to move forward on the pipeline bill, and could soon turn to late nights and weekend work to muscle through a stack of amendments.

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With Republicans eager to pass the Keystone bill and move on to other priorities, Democrats are warning 

McConnell not to back away from his pledge to allow an open amendment process — no matter how long it takes.

“[As] a leader you are known for your word. You break your word and it says a lot,” Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Hispanic civil rights icon endorses Harris for president California AG Becerra included in Bloomberg 50 list MORE (D-Calif.) said.

One Senate Democratic aide said the caucus is “pushing very strongly” for amendments to the Keystone bill and there is “a lot of interest in moving forward” with measures floated by leading Democratic Sens. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US MORE (N.Y.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowUSDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move to Kansas City GOP Senate challenger in Michigan raises .5 million in less than a month It's time to let Medicare to negotiate drug prices MORE (Mich.).

The aide said Democrats would use their retreat this week to settle on a game plan for the debate, which they expect to “go on for the next few weeks.”

Speculation about the ground rules for the amendment process ran rampant on Tuesday as Senate aides publicly clashed over how many had been offered and by which party. 

“FYI: Still no amendments filed by Democrats to the #KeystoneXL infrastructure bill,” McConnell’s spokesman Don Stewart tweeted. 

The communications director for Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Webb: Questions for Robert Mueller Steyer's impeachment solution is dead wrong MORE (D-Nev.) shot back: “Not true. There are three times as many Democratic amendments filed to Keystone as Republican amendments.”

The escalating tensions pose a challenge for McConnell, who has promised to restore the power of individual senators in the legislative process by keeping a light grip on the floor.

“The Senate is out of practice here,” McConnell quipped when asked if he would block amendments. 

“We are not trying to block anybody’s amendment. We are trying to gin up business.”

Democrats are aiming to use the amendment process to force Republicans into a number of tough votes, including on whether to back an amendment that states man-made climate change is happening.

Asked if the Republican caucus was ready to take that vote, McConnell said, “Yeah!”

Republican Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTrump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Trump says US will not sell Turkey F-35s after Russian missile defense system purchase Warren spars with Trump's top Defense nominee over ethics MORE (Okla.), the Senate’s leading climate change skeptic, said there was no reason to shy away from the vote.

“I think it’s fine to come to a vote. I think sooner or later you got to weigh in on these issues and this might be the opportunity,” Inhofe said of the climate change measure, which is being pushed by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Cardi B posts message of support for Ilhan Omar #IStandWithIlhan trends after crowd at Trump rally chants 'send her back' MORE (I-Vt.).

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenMcConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal Senators introduce bill to prevent border agency from selling personal data Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US MORE (R-N.D.) echoed that sentiment.

“I am open to amendments that either side wants to bring forward,” Hoeven said.

Sanders’s amendment is just the beginning of an avalanche likely to hit the Senate floor in the coming days.

McConnell’s vow to work under regular order has opened the floodgates, with both Democrats and Republicans filing amendments.

One proposal that could divide the Republican caucus is an amendment from Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz calls for 'every penny' of El Chapo's criminal enterprise to be used for Trump's wall after sentencing Conservatives defend Chris Pratt for wearing 'Don't Tread On Me' T-shirt Google official denies allegations of ties to China MORE (R-Texas) that would lift the decades-old ban on crude oil exports.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse PBS premieres first nationally distributed kids' show with Native American lead MORE (R-Alaska), a staunch supporter of repealing the ban, said Cruz’s amendment “might complicate” the process for the Keystone vote.

“What we do with it remains to be seen. I’m going to talk to Sen. Cruz as I will talk to all others who will be offering amendments. You may be introducing amendments to make a message, make a point and then choose to withdraw,” Murkowski said.

The Senate moved to consider three amendments to the Keystone bill Tuesday, including measures from Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocrats warm to idea of studying reparations Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei Senators press FTC over 'woefully inadequate' Facebook settlement MORE (D-Mass.) to ban the export of oil shipped through the $8 billion Keystone pipeline and provisions taken from Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Rising number of GOP lawmakers criticize Trump remarks about minority Dems MORE’s (R-Ohio) energy efficiency bill.

Amendments were still coming in on Tuesday evening, including one from Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerOn The Money: Labor secretary under fire over Epstein plea deal | Trump defends Acosta as Dems call for ouster | Biden releases tax returns showing steep rise in income | Tech giants to testify at House antitrust hearing GOP senators decline to criticize Acosta after new Epstein charges The Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle MORE (R-Neb.) that could be seen as a counter to the Sanders amendment.

Her proposal would prohibit the consideration of greenhouse gas emissions in the federal environmental review process for infrastructure and energy projects.

McConnell’s office remained adamant on Tuesday that Sanders’s climate change bill would not be blocked and that more amendments would be considered on top of the three pending.