Yet another Republican priority that’s more bipartisan than ObamaCare that will go nowhere thanks to White House obstructionism. The Keystone XL bill moved through the Senate today on a procedural vote, overcoming a filibuster with 63 votes, 9 of them Democrats, 1 Independent. The bill does not have the support necessary to overturn a veto from the president, as of now:
The Senate voted to move forward with a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline Monday night, but the chamber did not garner enough Democratic votes to block a White House veto.
A bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia to approve Keystone XL got 63 votes, enough to overcome a filibuster and move forward. The legislation attracted nine Democrats, but failed to get enough liberal lawmakers to block a presidential veto should the bill pass.
“We have everything to gain by building this pipeline, especially since it would help create thousands of jobs right here at home and limit our dependence on foreign oil,” said Manchin, a Democrat. “Every state – including West Virginia – would benefit economically from this activity. It is my sincere hope that we can once and for all move forward with this important project.”
The Senate voted 63-32 to clear a procedural hurdle and begin debate on the bill. Ten Democrats and one independent, Angus King (Maine), voted with every Republican to move the bill forward. Those Democrats included Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom Udall (N.M.) and Mark Warner (Va.). A final vote is expected later this week.
Despite the strong vote, the Senate lacks the two-thirds majority vote needed to overcome a veto. The House passed the bill last week by a vote of 266 to 153 — also shy of the 290 votes needed to clear a veto.
A Nebraska court ruling last week took out one of the last flimsy excuses the Obama administration had for delaying Keystone approval.
But what if the White House saw the fight over Keystone as an opportunity for a larger deal? Keystone XL is one of the few G.O.P. priorities in which the philosophical gulf between Obama and congressional Republicans is relatively narrow. In private, Obama has been dismissive of environmentalist claims that building Keystone XL would significantly affect climate change, and his State Department, with some caveats, came to the same conclusion in an environmental-impact statement. In U.S. and Canadian diplomatic circles, officials regularly discuss whether there could be some kind of a deal between the two countries. For example, Canada might make a more ambitious pledge to reduce carbon pollution in return for U.S. approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
So why doesn’t Obama have that discussion with Congress instead? What would the G.O.P. be willing to trade to get Keystone approved? A carbon tax? A large infrastructure project? Codifying the E.P.A.’s climate regulations into law? From the White House’s perspective, the Keystone XL pipeline should be an ideal policy to give away in a trade: it’s a major issue that Republicans care a great deal about but one that Obama seems to view as a sideshow. (And if world oil prices remain low, Keystone may be entirely moot because production in the expensive-to-develop Canadian oil sands might not be economically viable.)
This is what a rational president who is at all engaged in the process would conclude. That would be a smart move. Give a rather small ideological concession on a smallish piece of legislation that is popular with Americans in exchange for a less popular, bigger ideological win. For that reason, it probably won’t happen. This is the president who does not pivot, and there’s little evidence he recognizes such oportunities. He just missed the no-brainer that was marching for free speech with the rest of the world in Paris. He’s not gonna hit anything that’s not sitting on tee at this point in his presidency.