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 McConnellGOP, Kavanaugh accuser struggle to reach deal GOP making counteroffer to Kavanaugh accuser The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump questions Kavanaugh accuser's account | Accuser may testify Thursday | Midterm blame game begins 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 BoxerKamala Harris on 2020 presidential bid: ‘I’m not ruling it out’ The ‘bang for the buck’ theory fueling Trump’s infrastructure plan Kamala Harris endorses Gavin Newsom for California governor 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 SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (N.Y.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCongress prepares to punt biggest political battles until after midterms Trump attacks Dems on farm bill Trump is wrong, Dems are fighting to save Medicare and Social Security 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 ReidKavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow Dems can’t ‘Bork’ Kavanaugh, and have only themselves to blame Dem senator: Confidential documents would 'strongly bolster' argument against Kavanaugh's nomination 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 InhofePentagon releases report on sexual assault risk Trump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke 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 SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Ben & Jerry’s co-founders announce effort to help 7 Dem House challengers Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states MORE (I-Vt.).

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenOvernight Energy: Trump Cabinet officials head west | Zinke says California fires are not 'a debate about climate change' | Perry tours North Dakota coal mine | EPA chief meets industry leaders in Iowa to discuss ethanol mandate 74 protesters charged at Capitol in protest of Kavanaugh Big Oil’s carbon capture tax credit betrayal 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 CruzFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate NY Times, McCabe give Trump perfect cover to fire Rosenstein, Sessions Live coverage: Cruz, O'Rourke clash in Texas debate MORE (R-Texas) that would lift the decades-old ban on crude oil exports.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski says she’ll wait until Ford testifies before making decision on Kavanaugh Alaska gov, lieutenant gov come out against Kavanaugh The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh 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 MarkeyOvernight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes Dems introduce bill to ban low-yield nukes Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report 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 PortmanGraham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE’s (R-Ohio) energy efficiency bill.

Amendments were still coming in on Tuesday evening, including one from Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerEPA signs off on rule exempting farmers from reporting emissions GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk 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.