The about-face by Democrats in support of the Keystone XL pipeline as the $8 billion project nears a critical vote in the Senate next week smacks of “100 percent pure political maneuvering,” Sen. Ron Johnson told Newsmax on Friday.
“What’s remarkable to me is that Mary Landrieu has the gall to say in interviews that there’s no politics involved in this at all,” the Wisconsin Republican said, referring to the embattled Louisiana Democrat whose political future may depend on her being able to get the 60 votes needed to approve the pipeline. “That’s all this is.”
The first-term Johnson then likened Landrieu’s remarks to those disparaging Americans by Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber.
“It just proves that what Jonathan Gruber was saying is true: Democrats truly believe that the American public is so stupid that they can stand up and say, ‘Oh, there’s no politics in this’ and actually believe that the American public — and the folks in Louisiana — would believe this,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Landrieu, who is seeking her fourth term, is in a bitter Dec. 6 runoff against GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy after both failed to win 50 percent of the votes in the Nov. 4 election.
Both have been touting their energy credentials, as the Democrats seek to keep the Republicans from adding another seat to the biggest majority the GOP has had in the upper chamber since World War II.
Since the lame-duck congressional session began on Wednesday, Landrieu has been working feverishly to muster the 60 votes needed to pass the pipeline proposal.
She pushed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule Tuesday’s vote and told reporters on Friday that she had 59 votes — including all 45 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Passage of the measure requires 60 votes.
When asked whether she had the 60 votes, Landrieu responded in the conference call, “I am going to say I’m confident I’ll have the 60 votes,” The Hill reports.
Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet became the 59th senator to express support for the pipeline, but representatives for three others — Chris Coons of Delaware, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Bill Nelson of Florida — told Newsmax they would not back the project.
“He’s always said he believes it’s the administration’s decision to make, and that it’s not Congress’ job to issue construction permits,” said Ian Koski, Coons’ communications director. “He’s incredibly frustrated by how long it’s taking the administration to make this decision, but he plans to vote against the straight authorization bill that the Senate is due to consider on Tuesday.”
Representatives for three other senators who are being courted by Landrieu — Angus King, the Maine independent, and Democrats Corey Booker of New Jersey and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia — did not respond to Newsmax queries seeking comment.
But Cassidy sponsored the Keystone legislation that the House of Representatives approved on Friday by a 252-161 vote. The bill was backed by all 221 Republicans — and all the negative votes were cast by Democrats.
Thirty-one Democrats supported the legislation, which is identical to a bill Landrieu introduced with North Dakota GOP Sen. John Hoeven in May.
With Friday’s vote, the GOP-controlled lower chamber has approved Keystone legislation nine times.
“The Keystone bill that the Senate favors has now cleared the approval path in the House,” Cassidy said after the vote. “This will make it easier for the Senate to do right by the American people and finally vote on building the pipeline.
“If the Senate fails to pass this now, they are ignoring a majority of Americans who support the pipeline and the thousands of jobs it will bring,” Cassidy said. “Louisiana families want this pipeline built. Let’s get it built.”
Proposed by TransCanada Corp., the Keystone pipeline is to span 1,179 miles from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines and carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
The congressional votes will set up a showdown with President Barack Obama, who has long challenged the project on environmental grounds and has questioned claims by Republicans that it will create thousands of jobs and bolster the nation’s energy resources.
“I have to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States, or is somehow lowering gas prices,” Obama said, hinting at a veto, while traveling in Burma on Friday.
“Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else,” the president added. “That doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.”
The administration has been reviewing the project for years, and Obama reiterated that the evaluation could not be completed before the White House learns the outcome of a legal challenge to the pipeline’s route through Nebraska.
The State Department said in a Jan. 31 report that the project would not significantly increase carbon emissions because the oil was likely to find its way to market by other means.
The report added that transporting the oil by rail or truck would cause greater environmental problems than if the pipeline were built.
House Speaker John Boehner called on Obama to listen to the American people, especially after the Democratic drubbing in last week’s midterm elections, and sign the bill.
“The president doesn’t have any more elections to win, and he has no other excuse for standing in the way,” the Ohio Republican said after the vote.
If the Keystone bill fails in the Senate next week, Hoeven said he would reintroduce it next year when Republicans will control the chamber.
And Johnson made the same pledge in his Newsmax interview.
“It might fail this time around, but obviously we’ll be bringing it right back up,” he said. “President Obama was absolutely correct: His policies were on the ballot and certainly his energy policies. People are starting to pay attention.”