WASHINGTON — Even relegated to minority party status, Senate Democrats could soon have big decisions to make on the Keystone XL pipeline.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the first bill he’ll move once the GOP takes charge of the chamber on Tuesday is one that would authorize construction of the long-delayed pipeline.
But many expect President Barack Obama would veto such legislation, given his criticism of the 1,179-mile pipeline’s potential benefits. The project is currently in the hands of his State Department, which must green-light the pipeline since it crosses international borders.
If Republicans follow through on their promises, and Obama is being read correctly, that would mean the GOP would need to win the support of enough Democrats to secure a two-thirds majority vote in order to override Obama’s veto — putting the Keystone project’s hands in the fate of Senate Democrats.
Sen. Chuck Schumer says flatly the project won’t move forward — at least in its current form.
“We will have enough votes to sustain a presidential veto,” the New York Democrat told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Schumer said Democrats plan to offer several amendments to the Keystone bill.
He said they’ll push to require that the pipeline be made entirely of American steel, and that the Canadian tar sands oil it carries be used in the United States. They’ll also seek provisions that he said would boost clean energy sources — expanding the list of industries that could benefit and the number of jobs that could be created.
“Our Republican colleagues are doing what they always do. They’re appeasing a few special interests,” said Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat.
Republicans on Sunday pointed to the issue as a key test of the new dynamics in Washington, with Obama still in office and the GOP set to control both the House and the Senate for the first time during his presidency.
“This will certainly be a way in which we can measure where [Obama’s] going to come down,” Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, told Fox News on Sunday.
“What it’ll say about him, for one, is he’s listening again to his sort of left-wing base on this issue rather than where the American people are,” Thune predicted.
He said the Keystone vote will also be a gauge of whether moderate Democrats who have supported the pipeline in the past are willing to stick with it now that it’s more than a “symbolic vote,” even if that means voting to override an Obama veto.
“We’re going to find out whether or not there are moderate Democrats in the Senate,” Thune said.
The jousting over Keystone comes just weeks after the Senate fell just one vote short of passing the same measure in the final days of Democrats’ majority.
The vote was really a last-minute gambit by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, the energy chairwoman who wanted one last shot at demonstrating her clout before her home state’s voters decided her fate in a run-off election.
Fourteen Democrats supported the measure then. But five of those Democrats — including Landrieu — lost their re-election bids in November, leaving just nine Democrats as likely bets to join the chamber’s 54 Republicans on the issue in the new Congress. That’s enough to send the bill to Obama, but not enough to override his veto.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she doesn’t expect many, if any, Democrats to change their votes.
But the Minnesota Democrat said she’s “getting very frustrated” that the State Department hasn’t made a final decision on the pipeline’s future — allowing the issue to become “symbolic.”