Republicans are pushing full speed ahead to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline via congressional action after President Obama rejected it on the grounds that the narrow time window he had was insufficient to evaluate the environmental consequences. The strategy is aimed at exploiting Democratic divisions and pushing Obama into a corner politically.
Most Senate Republicans — along with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) — are now backing legislation to approve of the Canada-to-Texas pipeline. House Republicans intend to attach it to their upcoming infrastructure bill, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Sunday.
Even if both chambers of Congress vote to approve the project, Obama can veto the legislation, and it’s unlikely he’ll get overridden. But that’s what Republicans want him to do: repeatedly take a position against the pipeline so they can bludgeon him with it politically.
Democrats argue that the debate largely ceased to be about the pipeline itself after Republicans demanded as part of last month’s payroll tax cut package that Obama make a decision on the project by late February. Even though Obama seemed to be leaning in its favor, he had said earlier that he needed more time to evaluate the environmental and health consequences. And so, his administration argued, the GOP essentially forced him to turn down the application from TransCanada.
Republicans seemed all too aware of this possibility. “It’s a question of whether we’d rather have the pipeline or the issue,” a GOP aide said in December. They chose the issue, bringing into question how much they care about the pipeline itself. Indeed, not forcing a decision would have neutralized the politics surrounding the matter.
But now Republicans have turned it into a weapon, and the politics are win-win for them. Their base overwhelmingly supports the pipeline and its capacity for some temporary job creation puts them on the right side of the most important issue on voters’ minds in this election year.
For Democrats, the issue is a headache because their constituencies are split: environmentalists oppose it, while labor and big business have forged an unlikely alliance in its favor. The GOP push may not yield anything substantive, but it forces Obama to keep taking sides within his base, and answer to Republican attacks that he’s blocking a job creation opportunity.
That’s why Republicans want to keep the Keystone issue atop the agenda for as long as possible.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.