USA Today: Override this indefensible Keystone veto

Yesterday, Barack Obama vetoed the first bill to emerge from the new Congress, legislation that would have forced the administration to approve the Keystone XL project. The bill passed with significant support from Congress, but Obama claimed that six years still wasn’t enough time to evaluate the project, and that “executive processes” prevented him or Congress from acting on it. That doesn’t entirely kill Keystone, but it’s getting very clear that this White House will use any excuse to keep from having to choose one way or the other with finality on it.

USA Today’s editorial board blasts Obama today for the veto, and demands that Congress override it:

After years of dithering, President Obama finally acted quickly and decisively Tuesday on the Keystone XL pipeline: Within hours of receiving a bill approving construction of the $8 billion project, he vetoed it.

In a terse veto message, the president said the Keystone legislation would “circumvent longstanding and proven processes” for evaluating a project like this one. Oh, please. The administration has been evaluating Keystone for more than six years. There’s just no plausible excuse for the epic delay that has turned what should be a relatively minor policy dispute into one of Washington’s hyperventilated shouting matches. …

Obama has sent conflicting signals about whether he’ll ultimately approve or reject Keystone. Last November, he gave pipeline critics hope by buying into the argument that the oil Keystone would deliver to U.S. refineries will simply be exported, rather than be used domestically. Politifact.com rated that claim “mostly false,” and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave it three out of four Pinocchios for inaccuracy, noting that the best evidence is that “at least half” the oil would remain here.

Congress ought to end this drama by overriding Obama’s veto, just the third of his presidency and his first since 2010. If the votes can’t be mustered on Capitol Hill, the president has more than enough information to bring down the curtain. It is long past time to just say yes.

USA Today argues that the claims on both sides are vastly overblown, and that’s certainly true of the Chicken Little-esque doomsday prophecies of the environmentalists. However, the 42,000 jobs that would be created by the project actually will exist, even if they only last for the two-year cycle of the project, as USAT points out. That’s far longer than the supposedly “shovel-ready jobs” of Obama’s pet stimulus spending in 2009, most of which never materialized at all, and the rest of which only lasted a few months or weeks.

The veto does have one useful value, I argue in my column for The Fiscal Times this week, in part resting on that point. It shows that Obama’s a bipartisan poseur, and the veto reveals Obama for the extremist he has always been:

The bipartisan nature of the vote represented, and perhaps underrepresented, the broad approval of Keystone XL among the American electorate. A CNN poll in January showed that 57 percent of Americans wanted it approved, while only 28 percent opposed it. The bill had majority or double-digit plurality support in almost every demographic – age, region, gender, income, education. Only among Democrats and self-described liberals did opposition exceed support, and in those cases only by single digits.

With this level of general agreement on a significant issue, one might think that a president who wants to find ways to “work together” with Republicans on bipartisan initiatives, as Obama repeatedly promised, would have signed the Keystone XL bill. That, however, assumes that Obama wants to “work together,” and actually supports moderate and bipartisan initiatives. This veto shows clearly that Obama, as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said in his response to Obama’s action, is “a pawn of the radical Left.”

It also exposes Obama as a world-class hypocrite:

The president also stated that he was at the mercy of “established executive branch procedures,” a claim that deserves widespread derision. As president, those executive branch procedures serve his office to facilitate his leadership and decision-making. Obama has wide latitude to amend those processes – and in this case, an opening provided by Congress to dispense with them.

More to the point, though, this is the same president who announced three months ago that he’d rewrite the law unilaterally to expand amnesty to millions of people who emigrated illegally to the US. It’s his administration that filed a request for a stay after a federal judge reminded him that it takes Congress to change the law, not a president on his own. In other contexts, Obama’s sudden modesty and adherence to “executive branch processes” might have been amusing. In this refutation of a bipartisan consensus on a common-sense initiative, it insults the intelligence of all Americans.

Will Congress override the veto? It seems unlikely. Even with the significant levels of bipartisan support, the original bill did not get 2/3rds of the vote in either the House or Senate. It came up 20 votes short in the House and four in the Senate, and it would be a rare feat to pick up votes from the President’s party for a veto override. Boehner and/or McConnell may try it, but unless they see whip counts that justify such a long shot, it will be a waste of time and perhaps might make the project appear to be losing political momentum. They might be better off leaving this as evidence that Obama has been as honest about his “bipartisan” nature as he was about same-sex marriage for the first several years of his campaigns and his presidency.

John Kemp at Reuters expresses the obvious nature of Obama’s mendacity and hypocrisy well:

But by citing established procedures and the need not to short cut a thorough examination of the issues, after more than six years of environmental reviews, the president’s staff demonstrated they have absolutely no sense of irony and a deeply cynical approach to governing.

The president’s advisers insist the administration has not yet taken a decision on the merits of the pipeline and is still waiting for the State Department to finish its long-delayed review.

The president’s spokesman has insisted it is still “certainly possible” that he could authorise the pipeline in the normal way if he concludes that is in the national interest.

The administration insists its objections are procedural and centre on the attempt to take a decision that is notionally about foreign relations, a traditional area of executive branch prerogative, out of the president’s hands.

But the fiction that the administration is keeping an open mind about the project while insisting the normal process is observed is becoming impossible to sustain.

Indeed. And impossible to ignore, too.

Jazz Shaw Jun 22, 2021 6:01 PM ET