Louisiana race forcing votes on Keystone pipeline approval

Both Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican challenger Bill Cassidy are trying to use votes on the Keystone XL pipeline to gain advantages ahead of the state's Dec. 6 run-off election.

Story highlights

  • The House could vote to approve the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday, followed by the Senate next week
  • Efforts to boost the two candidates in the Louisiana Senate run-off election have propelled the legislation
  • It's not clear whether President Obama would veto a bill that takes the decision out of the State Department's hands
Last-minute jostling in Louisiana's Senate race has given sudden life to long-stalled legislation to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline.
Both houses of Congress are on track to vote in the coming days on proposals sponsored by the candidates who will face off in a December Senate runoff in Louisiana.
The House has scheduled a vote for Friday on a bill to green-light the $8 billion project to transport oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The Senate, meanwhile, is likely to vote early next week on similar legislation.
The moves could force the hand of President Barack Obama, who has said he won't make a decision on whether to allow the pipeline to go forward until the State Department can finish a years-long independent review.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with the president during an Asia trip on Thursday that the administration takes "a dim view of these kinds of proposals," suggesting a veto is possible.
The pipeline has become a political football in Louisiana, which is holding a Dec. 6 run-off election for its Senate seat.
Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is trying to demonstrate her clout as Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairwoman one last time by prodding the chamber to vote on legislation authorizing the pipeline.
She said repeatedly that at least 60 senators would vote for her bill.
"I am so pleased to have been one of the spark plugs to help to get us moving -- not in the next Congress, but in the lame duck session of this Congress," Landrieu said on the Senate floor Thursday.
House Republicans countered by scheduling a vote on their own on the same bill -- this one sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy, Landrieu's GOP challenger.
Combined with Senate Republicans' pledge to place Cassidy on the energy panel, it's an effort to mute Landrieu's claims of influence on energy issues that are important in oil-rich Louisiana.
"Regardless of the reason, what we're doing here today is working together on ideas that we've been trying to push for a long, long time," GOP Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas said on the House floor Thursday.
"Now that the Senate is here to join us, we are here to work together," Sessions said while repeatedly pointing out that Cassidy is sponsoring the measure.
Landrieu was aided in the Senate by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who acknowledged that Landrieu "is in a fight for her life here" but said she'd be willing to take her name off the bill if doing so would ease its passage.
"The best politics is good government," he said. "If you do something good, as a Republican, as a Democrat, we all get credit for it."
It's not clear whether Congress actually has the authority to approve the project -- or whether that power lies solely with the State Department, which has jurisdiction because the pipeline would cross international borders.
The legislation would use a January 2014 State Department environmental analysis of the project to satisfy requirements that it be studied for adverse effects.
Notre Dame law professor Bruce Huber said the legislation the House and Senate are set to vote on "would override the presidential permit process and simply declare the proposal to be approved as a matter of federal law."
He said there likely aren't enough votes to overturn an Obama veto -- especially with Democrats still holding a Senate majority before new lawmakers are sworn in early next year.
"Nonetheless, this is the most substantial shift in momentum with respect to the Keystone project that has occurred in the last several years," he said.