The House of Representatives approved a bill Friday authorizing construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, setting up a potential showdown between President Barack Obama and Capitol Hill over the controversial project.
Following the House’s 252 to 161 vote, attention shifts to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where lawmakers are expected to vote Tuesday on a Keystone bill co-sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
It was the ninth time the House had passed a bill to speed up the pipeline’s construction.
If the bill overcomes the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, Obama would have to decide whether to sign it, a calculation complicated by 2014 election politics and the White House’s hope of building a presidential legacy on environmental and climate change issues.
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Signing the bill might help Landrieu, who failed to gain over 50 percent of the vote in her re-election bid and faces a runoff Dec. 6 against Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who sponsored the House Keystone bill.
“The president doesn’t have any more elections to win, and he has no other excuse for standing in the way,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after the vote. “It’s time he start listening to the vast majority of Americans who support Keystone and help get more people back to work.”
House and Senate Republicans have championed the pipeline as a shovel-ready job creator that would allow reductions in oil imports from volatile regions such as the Middle East. Obama, liberal Democrats and green groups have expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the project.
Obama didn’t sound as if he were in a bill-signing mood when he was asked about the pipeline during a visit Friday with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon.
“If my Republican friends really want to focus on what’s good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what we are doing to produce more homegrown energy,” he said. “I’m happy to have that conversation.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had suggested Thursday in Myanmar that Obama would veto the bill.
“I think it’s fair to say that our dim view on these kinds of proposals has not changed,” he said.
If built, the Keystone XL pipeline would stretch 1,700 miles and bring crude oil from the Canadian oil sands in Alberta to American refineries on the Gulf Coast.
The project has been a political dispute — and talking point — for years, with Republicans using it as an example of what they say is the Obama administration’s lack of concern for job creation and most Democrats characterizing it as Exhibit A of the Republicans’ disregard for the environment.
Environmentalists have framed the issue as a significant test of Obama’s commitment to address climate change. Republicans and other supporters say it is necessary for jobs and energy security, because the U.S. would be importing oil from its neighbor, not the Middle East. Still others have criticized the project because some of the product refined from the oil could be exported to other countries, instead of used here.
In April, the White House delayed a decision on the pipeline until after the November elections, saying administration agencies needed more time to analyze pipeline-related litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court.
The debate over the pipeline suddenly reignited Wednesday, when Landrieu, aided by other moderate Democrats, pressed outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for a vote on the project, something he’d been reluctant to have.
Within hours of Landrieu’s request, the House announced its intention to vote on Cassidy’s bill. While thrilled to have votes on the pipeline in both chambers, congressional Republicans dismissed the upcoming Senate vote as a stunt to boost Landrieu’s re-election prospects.
“Now, miraculously, and I will call it a job bill, the Senate is now entertaining this because of one job,” Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., said during debate Thursday on the House bill.
“The tens of thousands of jobs of all these Americans who you’ve turned a deaf ear and blind eye to are now being answered by the Senate because of one job … one senator who has the possibility of losing her seat because of the Keystone pipeline not being able to go through the Senate,” he said.
Landrieu has insisted that the Senate vote isn’t about her political career.
In a call with reporters from Louisiana, where she was campaigning, Landrieu called herself the “sparkplug” to get the Keystone bill through Congress. The House bill is identical to one introduced by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Landrieu in May.
As of Friday, supporters of the measure appeared to have at least 59 of the 60 Senate votes they would need for approval next week. That included all 45 Republicans and 14 Democrats.
Landrieu conceded, though, that it is unlikely the Senate or House will have the two-thirds majorities that would be needed to override an Obama veto of the bill.
Meanwhile, House Democrats attacked the pipeline project as a sweetheart deal benefiting the oil companies and Canada.
“We get all the risks while the oil companies reap the rewards,” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said in prepared remarks Thursday. “The tar sands pipeline will worsen climate change. Keystone XL will create a dependence on tar sands crude, reversing the carbon pollution reductions we have been working so hard to accomplish.”
In the end, all but one Republican voted for the bill: Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich, voted “present.” Thirty-one Democrats crossed party lines to support the measure.
Seven Texas Democrats voted for the bill, including Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth.
Staff writers Maria Recio and John Gravois contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.