Senate Passes Keystone XL Pipeline Bill

Senate Passes Keystone XL Pipeline Bill
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After weeks of debate and dozens of votes on amendments, the Senate on Thursday passed a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline, the first major legislation to make it through the chamber under the new Republican majority.

The vote passed 62-36, with nine Democrats joining all Senate Republicans in supporting the measure. The legislation only needed a simple majority to pass after a cloture vote to end debate succeeded with the same number of yes votes earlier in the afternoon.

The House passed a similar bill approving the Keystone pipeline earlier this month, but President Obama has promised to veto any bill that reaches his desk. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reaffirmed the president’s veto threat on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called passing the Keystone legislation “an important accomplishment for the country.”

“We’re hoping the president, upon reflection, will agree to sign on to a bill that his State Department says could create up to 42,000 jobs – [that] his State Department says creates little or no impact on the environment,” McConnell said.

It was the second attempt this week by McConnell and Republicans to close off debate on the pipeline legislation. Democrats on Monday were upset at the way the amendment process had been handled and blocked the vote.

Democrats held a press conference after the cloture vote Thursday lambasting Republicans for knocking down amendments to Keystone and criticizing it as a bill focused on special interests. They also reiterated a common thread of debate, suggesting that of the 42,000 jobs Republicans say would be created under Keystone, only 35 of them would be permanent.

“Right out of the gate, the first act of the new Republican majority was to pass a special interest bill that’s a giveaway to foreign oil and steel companies and will do nothing to benefit the American people,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, told reporters. “Republicans are calling this a jobs bill, but the fact is that the Keystone would create only 35 permanent jobs, a drop in the bucket.”

Schumer said Democrats were “grateful we had the opportunity to offer and vote on amendments, but those amendments don’t do any good for the middle class if Republicans vote them down.” One amendment sponsored by Sen. Al Franken would have required that U.S. steel, iron and manufactured goods be used in the construction of the pipeline amendment. Another would have ensured that oil transported in the pipeline be used to in the United States to reduce dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Now that the bill has passed the Senate, the House has two options: to take up and pass the Senate version, or to go to conference and merge the two versions into a new bill to be voted on by each chamber. A GOP aide said no decision has been made yet on which route to take.

If Obama keeps his vow to veto the bill, much of this debate would likely prove moot, as the Senate fell short of the 67 votes necessary to override a veto. Minority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio were absent for the vote, which means Republicans would likely be four short of overriding a veto.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., sponsor of the Keystone bill, said that if Obama vetoes it and there aren’t enough votes to override, Republicans could attach approval for the Keystone to other legislation.

Hoeven said the process his legislation went through, with votes on more than 40 amendments over a two-week span, was a positive sign that things can get done under new Senate leadership.

“I’m hopeful, as I said even before we got into the debate on Keystone, that this is about getting that regular order going on other legislation as well,” Hoeven said. “And we’re hopeful that will help break through the gridlock and get more done in the Senate and for the American people.”

McConnell said the Senate will next take up legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out of funds Feb. 27. The House passed legislation funding DHS earlier this month that included amendments halting Obama’s executive action to defer deportation of some four million immigration. Democrats have criticized this tactic, and DHS funding is unlikely to pass the Senate if it includes the immigration add-ons.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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