Nov 13, 2014 4:46 PM

Oil and politics: A senator scraps for survival

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) In a blend of crude oil and raw politics, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu scrapped on Thursday for converts among fellow Democrats for legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline before a runoff election that threatens to end her career in Congress.

The White House said President Barack Obama took a "dim view" of the bill but did not explictly threaten a veto.

Obama, questioned about the issue while on the other side of the globe, said the administration's long-stalled review of the project cannot be completed before knowing the outcome of a legal challenge to the pipeline's route through Nebraska.

"I don't think we should short-circuit that process," he said at a news conference in Myanmar.

Even so, Senate Democratic officials said the party's leadership agreed to give Landrieu room to try to pass the measure only after receiving assurances that Obama would not sign it.

The maneuvering took place as House Republicans readied a vote for Friday on their own identical pipeline bill advanced by Rep. Bill Cassidy, who is Landrieu's rival in the Dec. 6 runoff. Landrieu led in a first round of voting last week, but Cassidy is favored to win the runoff, leaving Landrieu in urgent need of a way to shake up the race.

Landrieu sought to cast herself as an independent-minded lawmaker as she maneuvered for supporters for her bill in the Senate and for votes back home. "My leadership didn't give me permission to do this. Nobody asked me to do it," she said in remarks on the Senate floor.

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, offered a different view. "We never would have gotten to this point without the tireless leadership of Senator Hoeven in the Senate and Congressman Cassidy in the House, he said. Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota is the bill's leading Republican supporter in the Senate.

Adding another layer of political complexity, Republicans said if the bill doesn't become law in the next several days, they will make it a priority after a new Congress convenes in January, when they will have a majority in both houses and increased leverage over Obama.

"We aren't finished. We'll pass it as either part of broader energy legislation or as an amendment to another must-pass bill, either in the lame duck or in the new Congress," said Hoeven.

The GOP-controlled House has voted several times to approve the pipeline, which would move oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Legislation on the issue has always fallen victim to gridlock in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has worked to prevent its passage.

If the political maneuvering was thick, the issue itself was relatively straightforward.

Supporters say construction of the pipeline is critical if the United States is to achieve energy security after decades of relying on oil imports that can fluctuate unpredictably in price. They also cite estimates that the pipeline would create thousands of jobs

But the project divides Democrats, with environmentalists in opposition while some unions as well as energy-state and business-minded lawmakers support it.

The Sierra Cub issued a statement opposing the measure, as did Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who urged Obama to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

The administration has put off announcing any decision pending a Supreme Court ruling in Nebraska on a challenge to the law that allowed the route of the pipeline to be set. Obama has long said his administration would make a final decision based on the pipeline's estimated impact on climate change.

Supporters of the measure appeared to have at least 58 of the 60 votes they would need for approval next week. That included all 45 Republicans as well as 13 Democrats, among them Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, whose office confirmed his support during the day.

Other officials said Landrieu had a commitment from one more Democrat, whom they declined to name. Democrats who are leaving the Senate at year's end appear to offer Landrieu the most hope in her search for 60 votes. But Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota confirmed his opposition during the day, and a spokesman for Sen. Mark Udall said the Colorado lawmaker "continues to believe Congress should not be injecting politics into the ongoing review."

The White House stopped short of directly threatening a veto of the legislation. But spokesman Josh Earnest, traveling in Asia with Obama, said the president takes a "dim view" of legislative efforts to force action on the project. Earnest reiterated Obama's preference for evaluating the pipeline through a long-stalled State Department review.

The Nebraska Supreme Court's decision is expected before the end of the year.

That case involves a lawsuit filed by landowners and activists opposed to the project who are seeking to overturn a 2012 state law that allowed Republican Gov. Dave Heineman to approve the pipeline's route through the state.

White House efforts to tiptoe around the issue weren't good enough for several Senate Republicans, who sent the White House a letter asking Obama to make his position known.


Associated Press writer Grant Schulte in Nebraska contributed to this report.


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