Pressure to hold a Senate vote on the proposed pipeline reached a fever pitch Thursday as pro-Keystone senators edged toward the first -- and likely only -- vote to force approval of the project this election cycle. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introduced a bill to require approval. The legislation is co-sponsored by every Republican and 11 Democrats, many of whom face difficult reelection campaigns this fall. Democratic sources said Thursday they are still considering having a vote on Keystone next week
For those concerned with the possible construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, the focus has largely been on the Obama administration and the State Department, where a review process is still underway. For the most part, Congress is largely irrelevant, aside from lawmakers expressing opinions on whether the project should proceed.
But very recently, an effort was launched to change that calculus, and as of yesterday, it's "crunch time."
There are multiple angles to this, nearly all of which are unresolved. As of yesterday, for example, senators weren't sure whether to expect a Keystone vote on a stand-alone bill or as an amendment to an energy-efficiency bill co-sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
And while that debate continues, Keystone proponents are also still working on the head count. Hoeven told reporters yesterday, "I have 56 hard yeses" and "six or seven maybes."
That's a majority, obviously, but it's not yet a filibuster-proof majority and it's certainly not a majority large enough to override a presidential veto.
The odds of the White House accepting this policy are roughly zero -- the proposal wouldn't just endorse Keystone as a policy, it would shift responsibility for the Keystone decision from the administration to Congress. In other words, Landrieu and Hoeven are working on a measure that would ask Obama to take himself out of the decision making process.
I've seen several reports this week about the bill "bypassing the Obama administration," but that refers to what would happen if the legislation becomes law, not a way to make the legislation law without the president's signature.
In this sense, the bill remains a long shot. Proponents still haven't pulled together enough votes to break a Democratic filibuster, and even if they did, they'd need 67 votes to override an expected Obama veto.
The notion that 22 Senate Dems would break ranks on this issue to override the president is a stretch. That's not to say it's impossible, but it's fair to say this would be a very heavy lift. Indeed, I've talked to Hill staffers who don't even expect the bill to advance past a filibuster.
Still, the behind-the-scenes wrangling has quickly grown pretty intense. The showdown on this next week will be worth watching.