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 McConnellToomey on gun reform: 'Beto O'Rourke is not helping' Election meddling has become the new normal of US diplomacy DC statehood push faces long odds despite record support 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 BoxerHillicon Valley: Ocasio-Cortez clashes with former Dem senator over gig worker bill | Software engineer indicted over Capital One breach | Lawmakers push Amazon to remove unsafe products Ocasio-Cortez blasts former Dem senator for helping Lyft fight gig worker bill Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates 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 SchumerToomey on gun reform: 'Beto O'Rourke is not helping' Schumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey MORE (N.Y.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowRepublicans to hand out 'baseball cards' mocking Gary Peters in Michigan Senate Democrats accuse administration of burying climate change reports Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' 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 ReidBarr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks Harry Reid warns Trump 'can be reelected' Homeland Security Republican accuses Navy of withholding UFO info 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 InhofeNegotiators kick off defense bill talks amid border wall, Iran debates House rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Republicans wary of US action on Iran 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 SandersOmar: Biden not the candidate to 'tackle a lot of the systematic challenges that we have' Seven takeaways from a busy Democratic presidential campaign weekend in Iowa Democrats go all out to court young voters for 2020 MORE (I-Vt.).

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenBottom Line Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal 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 CruzTrump walks tightrope on gun control State Department's top arms control official leaving Sanders NASA plan is definitely Earth first MORE (R-Texas) that would lift the decades-old ban on crude oil exports.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Bipartisan group of senators urges FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote 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 MarkeyMarkey challenges Democratic Senate campaign opponents to climate change debate Kennedy launches primary challenge against Markey Markey fundraises ahead of Kennedy primary challenge 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 PortmanCost for last three government shutdowns estimated at billion The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE’s (R-Ohio) energy efficiency bill.

Amendments were still coming in on Tuesday evening, including one from Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerStatue of Chief Standing Bear to be unveiled in Capitol The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow 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.