Senate Democrats block Keystone XL bill

The legislation that aims to bypass President Barack Obama’s role in deciding whether to allow construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline has hit a roadblock in the U.S. Senate.

That chamber’s minority Democrats filibustered the bill Monday, preventing majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., from moving to a vote on its merits.

Two votes were held in an attempt by McConnell and the Senate’s GOP caucus to obtain cloture, or an end to debate, on S.1. Both failed, with only 53 senators voting to end debate.

Sixty affirmative votes are needed to obtain cloture.

Among those who voted to move immediately to a vote on the merits of the legislation were four Democrats: Michael F. Bennet of Colorado, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Every Republican senator who was present in the chamber for the cloture votes cast their ballot in favor of ending the filibuster.

The Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives approved a KXL pipeline bill shortly after the commencement of the 114th Congress earlier this month.

President Barack Obama has promised to veto any legislation that interferes with his discretion to grant or withhold the permit needed for the pipeline developer to construct the project across the U.S.-Canada border.

New Congress opens with GOP effort to push through KXL pipeline

The 114th Congress, with Republicans in charge of both chambers, opened Jan. 6 with the new majority showing a determination to move quickly on an attempt force approval of the KXL pipeline.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the new majority leader, said on Dec. 16 that he would bring a bill that strips President Barack Obama of the authority to reject the KXL pipeline to the floor as the first act of the new GOP majority in the chamber.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee planned to conduct on Wednesday a hearing on S1, the KXL pipeline bill, but it was postponed after an objection by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on behalf of the Democratic caucus.

Whether the delay will affect a mark-up of the bill that is scheduled for Thursday is not yet clear.

A Jan. 6 report in The Hill online newspaper said that there are 63 votes in the Senate to support the planned GOP legislation, including Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tom Carper of Delaware, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, and Mark Warner of Virginia.

All of the chamber’s 54 Republicans are co-sponsors of the bill.

The House of Representatives, under GOP control since Jan. 2011, repeatedly passed bills to approve the pipeline during the 112th and 113th Congresses and is expected to again pass such legislation within the week.

The White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said Tuesday that President Barack Obama would veto any bill that seeks to eliminate the president’s authority to decide whether to grant permission for the pipeline to cross the international border separating the United States from Canada.

“I mean, the fact is this piece of legislation is not altogether different than legislation that was introduced in the last Congress, and you’ll recall that we put out a statement of administration position indicating that the President would have vetoed had that bill passed the previous Congress,” Earnest said. “And I can confirm for you that if this bill passes this Congress the President wouldn’t sign it either.”

Even if an attempted override of a presidential veto could secure the necessary two-thirds affirmative vote in the House of Representatives, it is unlikely that such an attempt would succeed in the Senate. In that chamber 67 votes would be needed to enact the KXL pipeline bill into law over Obama’s objection.

The Department of State’s review of the application for the permit needed to build the pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border is currently delayed by litigation in the Nebraska state courts.

A Lancaster County district judge ruled in February that the state law invoked by the state’s former Republican Gov. Dave Heineman to justify approval of the pipeline route through the state violated the Nebraska constitution.

That decision is now before the Nebraska Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case in September.