How desperate are Democrats to salvage the one Senate seat they still haven’t quite lost in the midterm elections? Desperate enough to anger their environmental-progressive base and threaten their ability to compete in 2016? It may come down to that question in the lame-duck Senate over the last few days of the Democratic majority. The Washington Post reports that Harry Reid and his caucus may try rescuing Mary Landrieu by passing an approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project, a key policy goal for Republicans and a big economic issue in Louisiana:

Senate Democrats are working on plans to hold a vote authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — approval that Democrats believe might bolster the chances of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who faces a tough runoff election next month.

Such a move would also draw howls from the environmental movement who had hoped that President Obama would resolve a years-long dispute over a long-awaited energy project in their favor.

Several Senate Democratic aides confirmed on Tuesday evening that talks are underway to allow for a vote authorizing construction of the pipeline in the coming days. The aides, who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said that details on language of the bill authorizing and its timing were not yet settled, but likely would be among the topics of conversation as Congress reconvenes Wednesday.

Landrieu is expected to make a formal announcement of plans to hold a vote later Tuesday or on Wednesday, the aides said.

As pandering goes, this qualifies as first class. Landrieu arguably wouldn’t have been in this kind of trouble had Harry Reid and Senate Democrats stiff-armed the environmental extremists and approved the pipeline years ago.  On the other hand, it’s possible that Barack Obama is so unpopular with red-state Louisiana voters that Keystone wouldn’t make any difference. If so, it won’t make any difference now either, especially not after Landrieu accused voters in her state of not liking Obama because of their latent racism, and blamed her difficulties in the midterm on their sexism.

Speaking of Obama, just where does he fit into this scenario? House Republicans managed to insert action on Keystone into a previous budget agreement, only to have the White House ignore it. Obama clearly wants to stall this to death. If the Senate passes a standalone bill for Keystone in time to help Landrieu, will Obama sign it — or veto it? The latter might help Landrieu but would betray one of the last constituencies still clinging to Obama after six years of incompetence and obfuscation.  A veto would make Senate Democrats look weak and ineffectual, while doing nothing for Landrieu. And in the end, with Landrieu only getting 42% of the vote as the only Democrat in the election on Tuesday, in a state that has a 39% approval rating for Obama, any Keystone action would probably only nibble at the edge of a double-digit defeat in a runoff turnout.

Besides, two can play this game:

Republicans have promised Bill Cassidy a seat on the Senate’s energy committee if he defeats Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana’s runoff election next month, potentially undercutting one of her main arguments for re-election. …

[I]ncoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement released to The Associated Press that he will appoint Cassidy to the committee should Cassidy win his Dec. 6 runoff election against Landrieu.

“I’m confident Dr. Cassidy will use this position to succeed where Sen. Landrieu failed,” McConnell said in a statement touting Cassidy’s support for the Keystone XL pipeline and opposition to Obama administration efforts to place new restrictions on carbon emissions.

Landrieu had warned voters that losing her seat on the committee would reduce their influence on energy policies, although as the Keystone debacle (and the moratorium on Gulf drilling Obama imposed) demonstrates, Landrieu’s presence hasn’t done all that much for her home state. McConnell’s pledge changes the game entirely. The question is no longer whether voters have to choose whether they get a seat on the Energy committee or not — it’s whether they want a minority seat or a majority seat.  They can get both Keystone and a majority seat in the next Congress, or keep limping along with the ineffectual Landrieu. Decisions, decisions …