WASHINGTON – After six days of political wrangling and vote-whipping, the Senate failed to pass a bill on Tuesday forcing authorization of the Keystone XL pipeline, dashing hopes of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) to add the vote to her list of accomplishments heading into a tough runoff election.
Fifty-nine senators voted for the bill, one short of the 60 needed to clear a filibuster. Fourteen Democrats joined all the Senate Republicans in voting for the bill, which was cosponsored by Landrieu and John Hoeven (R-N.D.). The House passed companion legislation on Friday from Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Landrieu’s opponent in the runoff election.
Landrieu said going into Tuesday’s debate that it was "one of the first debates I’ve been in in eight years where the outcome is uncertain." She added, however, that she went into the debate "knowing in my heart we have 60 votes. I hope we’ve got the courage that supports that."
But that last vote never materialized.
Several Democrats considered swing votes confirmed in the days leading up to the vote that they would be voting against the bill. And on Tuesday afternoon, Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, announced that he was voting "no" on the measure. King had previously said he was "leaning no." His was among the last uncertain votes in the Senate.
"Congress is not — nor should it be — in the business of legislating the approval or disapproval of a construction project," King said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "And while I am frustrated that the President has refused to make a decision on the future of the pipeline, I don’t believe that short-circuiting the process to circumvent his Administration is in the best interest of the American people."
Environmental advocates also tried to put pressure on a pair of Democrats who had decided to vote for the bill, Sens. Tom Carper (Del.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.). Capitol Police arrested four young activists who staged a protest in Carper’s office, singing refrains like "Stop the pipeline, stop the greed." Three others were arrested at Bennet’s office.
Debate on the bill lasted six hours, with supporters of the bill criticizing the lengthy evaluation process that has now lasted six years. "This process has not worked," said Heidi Heitkamp (D-Neb.). "This process has not brought this project to some kind of finality."
Critics of the pipeline also took to the floor to defend their votes against the bill. "From my state’s point of view, it’s all harm," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
The failure averts a showdown with President Obama, for now. While the president never issued a direct veto threat, he strongly implied in a press conference last Friday that he would reject the bill if it came to his desk. "My position hasn’t changed, that this is a process that is supposed to be followed," he said.
But legislation to force approval of the pipeline will likely make a comeback as soon as the new Congress is sworn in in January, when a bill will have more supporters in the Senate. "Republicans are committed to getting Keystone approved," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the Senate floor. If not today, McConnell said, "then a new majority after the beginning of the year will be taking this up and sending it down to the desk of the president."