An activist holds up a sign outside the State Department during a protest of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 7, 2014 in Washington.
Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty

McConnell puts Keystone at the top of the to-do list

Just a few days after the 2014 midterm elections, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) delivered the official weekly Republican address, vowing to the public, “We’ll work to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.” One week later, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) delivered the weekly GOP address and he, too, demanded Keystone approval.
Two weeks later, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) gave the official Republican address, which he used to highlight Keystone. And two weeks after that, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) delivered the GOP address, which once again put the spotlight on Republican support for the pipeline.
Given this near-obsession, yesterday’s news hardly came as a surprise.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) announced Tuesday that he will move the Keystone XL pipeline as the first order of business in the GOP-controlled Senate next year.

“We’ll be starting next year with a job-creating bill that enjoys significant bipartisan support,” he said. “The first item up in the new Senate will be the Keystone XL pipeline.”
There’s arguably some symbolic significance to this. It will be the first Republican-led Congress in eight years, so the first issue on the to-do list presumably helps reflect the party’s top policy priority.
And apparently, the GOP remains preoccupied with a Canadian pipeline.
The question is, why?
When gas prices were soaring, Republicans used this as an excuse to push for Keystone, despite the fact that it would have no meaningful effect on gas prices.  But with prices at the pump plummeting – the average per-gallon price today dropped to a stunning $2.50 – this no longer offers the GOP a pretense.
Republicans also try to present this as an economic tool, but a State Department investigation determined that the Keystone project, once completed, would create jobs for “approximately 50 total employees in the United States.” That’s not a typo.
Complicating matters, President Obama is almost certain to veto this bill, and Republicans will probably be unable to override his rejection of the policy. In other words, McConnell & Co. want to start the brand new Congress by throwing a partisan punch: tackling a bill that the GOP majority knows won’t pass.
It’s almost as if they want to “poison the well.”
The White House might consider trading Republicans the pipeline for something else, but Jon Chait recently made a compelling case that such a bipartisan deal is almost certainly impossible.
You have to ask yourself what Republicans would get out of the pipeline. It doesn’t carry much benefit for American energy firms – the benefits would flow to Canadian oil companies, who would otherwise have to find more expensive means to transport their product. The other primary benefit is almost surely that Obama opposes the pipeline. Talking up Keystone is therefore a way for Republicans to paint the president as standing in the way of economic progress. If Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline, then Republicans pretty much have no jobs plan any more.
Republicans need to have a jobs plan. They’re much better off blaming Obama for standing in the way of the huge number of construction jobs that would be made available to hardworking Americans being blocked by the left-wing environmental agenda than they are taking credit for the pipeline. Republicans don’t like cutting deals with Obama even when he offers them something they want. In this case, the trade value of Keystone is negative. Which is to say, Republicans aren’t going to give him squat.