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Senate votes down Keystone XL legislation

The Senate on Tuesday failed to pass legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Sen. Mary Landrieu’s Hail Mary was an incomplete.

The Senate on Tuesday failed to pass legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The final vote tally was 59-41, one shy of the 60-vote threshold the measure needed to advance.

Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who who faces a runoff election in her state next month, had pushed hard for the vote in hopes that it would boost her re-election bid. But she ultimately was unable to gather enough votes. Landrieu’s opponent in the runoff, Rep. Bill Cassidy, sponsored the House version of the bill, which passed on Nov. 14. 

At a press conference immediately after the vote, Landrieu was gracious. "There's no blame," she said, vowing to continue the fight. "There's only joy in the fight."

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Just after the bill was declared defeated, a Native American protester in the gallery began chanting before being quickly removed by security. Moments later, four younger demonstrators stood to chant that Senate Democrats should reject the pipeline.

Environmentalists, who have fought the pipeline tooth and nail for years, were quick to declare victory. “We thank all the senators who voted against this dangerous Keystone legislation, and we’re more confident than ever that this pipeline will never be built,” League of Conservation Voters senior vice president of government affairs Tiernan Sittenfeld said in a statement.

The pipeline has been tied up in a review process in the Obama administration, but Republicans and some Democrats have tried to force the president's hand in approving construction of the project. “Once again, Congress tried to play games with our future -- and failed. Since Keystone XL has always been President Obama’s decision, this vote was never anything more than an empty gesture of political theater,” said May Boeve, the executive director of, the environmentalist group that helped first turn the pipeline into a major issue.

But the victory for the environmentalists may be short-lived, as the Republican-controlled Congress that will be sworn in next year is expected to quickly and easily approve the plan. "I have no real doubt that the president will veto it eventually," Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn told reporters earlier Tuesday. "So we will come back at it next year and keep coming back until we get a solution."

RELATED: Is the Keystone XL all risk, no reward?

Tuesday’s vote was more about Landrieu, who hoped a victory would give her the boost she needs to overcome a deep polling deficit ahead of the runoff election. On the Senate floor during the vote, Landrieu hovered by the desk of the clerk, where senators cast their votes, occasionally checking who had voted. She made some last-minute appeals to her colleague as they stepped up to vote, but to no avail. 

For days, she had been stuck at 59 votes, desperately searching for a single convert. As more and more Democrats came out publicly against her bill, it became clear her options were dwindling. Tuesday afternoon, speculation focused on Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate. The thought was that he might give Landrieu her final vote so it did not look like her Democratic colleagues were abandoning her. But ultimately, he voted "no," along with every other prospect she had to be her final Senate Democratic vote. 

Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat from North Carolina who lost her re-election bid earlier this month, gave Landrieu a warm hug before voting for the the bill. Sen. Mark Warner, another "yes" vote, patted Landrieu on the shoulder after casting his vote. When it was clear Landrieu was not going to get the votes she need, the senator retreated up the aisle.

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