White House finally issues formal veto threat on Keystone bill

It took them long enough. Recall that when Mary Landrieu pushed her own version of an authorization for the Keystone XL pipeline, Barack Obama and the White House played coy, hoping to help her win the runoff election that she ended up losing in a landslide on December 6th. Even as late as this weekend, the Obama administration didn’t tip their hand on Keystone. Yesterday Josh Earnest told the gaggle that Obama wouldn’t sign the bill as it currently stands, but stopped short of an explicit veto threat against the idea entirely.


Today, the White House made it explicit:

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3, which would immediately authorize the construction, connection, operation, and maintenance of the Keystone XL pipeline and related cross-border facilities and declare that the Secretary of State’s January 2014 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement satisfies the National Environmental Policy Act and any other provisions of law requiring Federal consultation or review with respect to the Keystone XL pipeline or its related facilities.

H.R. 3 seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines serve the national interest by authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline project prior to the completion of the Presidential Permitting process.  In doing so, it would cut short consideration of important issues relevant to the national interest.  The bill also would authorize the project despite uncertainty due to ongoing litigation in Nebraska.

Because H.R. 3 conflicts with longstanding Executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the President and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on U.S. national interests (including serious security, safety, environmental, and other ramifications), if presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill.

They also issued a veto threat against the Save American Workers Act, which would change the threshold for full-time work from 30 hours in ObamaCare to 40 hours. No one expected any different reaction; Obama has repeatedly threatened to veto any Republican changes to ObamaCare. A few Republicans have expressed some concerns with the SAW Act too, worried that making the threshold 40 hours would encourage businesses to work people more hours while still treating them as part-time employees.


On Keystone, though, the White House has more problems, not the least of which is dishonesty. The State Department has had six years to consider Keystone, which makes the claim that Congress would “cut short consideration of important issues” a laughable lie. The US fought the second world war in less than four years in comparison, and put a man on the Moon in almost the same amount of time that the Obama administration has stalled out on a pipeline. Citing the legal challenge is more nonsense; an approval would have no impact on the court. These applications do not sit around waiting around for the resolution of all possible legal challenges.

This sounds like a good first test of Mitch McConnell’s outreach efforts to Democrats. In fact, that’s exactly what McConnell has in mind:

Manchin teamed up with Republican Sen. John Hoeven (N.D.) on Tuesday to introduce legislation that would approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The Democratic co-sponsors of the bill include Donnelly, Heitkamp, Warner, McCaskill and Jon Tester (Mont.).

Hoeven believes he can attract centrist Democrats to the cause of regulatory reform. He says farm-state Democrats have signaled their support for an amendment that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from significantly expanding federal authority to regulate small wetlands, creeks and stock ponds.

On Wednesday, Manchin and Donnelly will join centrist Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) in unveiling a proposal to change ObamaCare’s definition of full-time employment from 30 hours per week to 40.

Manchin is also in talks with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the expected chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this Congress, about education reform, and has voiced interest in passing immigration reform in the next two years as well.

Also on Tuesday, Heinrich, Heitkamp and Kaine joined Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership, to introduce a bill expanding exports of liquefied natural gas. Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), the recent chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is an original co-sponsor of the measure.


Therein lies the danger for Obama, but also an escape hatch. The White House emphasized yesterday that they opposed the Keystone bill coming out of the House, and issued today’s threat on that basis. If McConnell gets 60 or more votes for a Keystone bill, a veto is going to marginalize Obama and undercut the premise of his argument about due diligence. On the other hand, McConnell plans to allow for amendments from both parties and a full committee process on almost all legislation, a sharp departure from the dictatorial Harry Reid era. If Democrats offer amendments that Republicans can support, the White House can claim that the bill has changed enough to their satisfaction — in essence, declare victory and depart the field before anyone asks too many questions.

Watch, then, to see whether the White House comments on the upcoming Senate bill — and how many votes it gets on the Senate floor when it finally comes up for approval. If it gets more than 60 votes, expect the Obama administration to pick another fight somewhere else. If they don’t, Republicans will have their first evidence in the 114th Session that Obama plans to be obstructionist, and that it’s the Democrats who can’t govern. That would be the first volley of 2016.

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