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Keystone vote could reignite political dilemma for Obama

With the Senate expected to vote on the measure next week, Obama may soon have another political battle on his hands.

The Republican-led House of Representatives voted Friday to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, putting the ball once again in the Senate’s court.

The Senate has previously avoided bringing the controversial project, which would create an oil pipeline system from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, to a vote. But in recent days the Keystone project has gained new momentum, with Democrats in the upper chamber of Congress abandoning their effort to block a roll call from taking place in hopes of helping embattled Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu.

The House, in its ninth attempt, passed the legislation by a 252-161 vote. All of the Republicans voted in favor of the bill, along with 31 Democrats. The majority of Democrats -- 161 -- voted against it. The Senate expected to hold a vote next week – reigniting a political battle for President Obama, who has hinted in the past that he’d veto such legislation.

The issue was fast-tracked in the lame-duck Congress in large part due to Dec. 6 runoff election between incumbent Landrieu and her opponent, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy. Neither candidate was able to cross the 50% voting threshold on Election Day to win the Senate seat. Both are now trying to flex their muscle and tout their energy credentials in a state where the project is very popular.

Proponents of Keystone — mainly labor unions, oil companies, Republicans and moderate Democrats like Landrieu — argue the plan would create thousands of jobs and make the country less dependent on oil from the Middle East. Critics say the project would release dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, would not bring in significant numbers of new jobs, and would have no effect on U.S. gas prices.

The legislation in the House, which was being spearheaded by Cassidy, was expected to pass, given that the lower chamber of Congress has given the thumbs up to Keystone at least eight times in the past. The Senate version, which is being pushed by Landrieu, could be a different story. The bill has 56 co-sponsors, including all 45 GOP senators and 11 Democrats. It’s not clear if she has the 60 votes needed for passage, but the Democrat has insisted she is “confident” she can convince four additional Democrats to join her. 

On Thursday, Landrieu — who is fighting for her political life — took big credit for the expected Senate vote on Keystone. "When [Republicans] call press conferences later today and claim victory, please remember who was on this floor talking about it, because Mitch McConnell didn't mention it." She continued, "I'm the senator that came to this floor as chair of the energy committee to say 'lets get this business done.'"

WATCH: Landrieu tells reporters to remember her role in the Keystone vote

The project has long been under State Department review, and Obama said on Friday from Burma that he wants that review to continue. He stopped short of indicating whether or not he’d veto the measure.

Obama said that he is having “to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone Pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States or is somehow lowering gas prices.” He added, “it’s providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our and down to the gulf, where it will be sold to everyone else. It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.” 

If four Democrats do cross over to support the pipeline project, Obama would be put in a tricky spot. He has been critical of Keystone for years, so surely would not be eager to rubber-stamp Congress' initiative. But his party also just took a huge beating in the midterm elections, and he may be wary of seeming tone-deaf to voters' desire for a GOP-led Senate.