Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 3, 2015

Landrieu, Vitter Playing Key Roles in Keystone XL Pipeline Standoff

Landrieu speaks with a reporter as she walks to the Senate Democrats' policy lunch on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Landrieu speaks with a reporter as she walks to the Senate Democrats’ policy lunch on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Many eyes will be on Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary L. Landrieu as the Senate gears up for another debate over the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.

She’s taking on President Barack Obama and most of her Democratic Party as she faces a tight re-election race back home in Louisiana, hoping for a win on the pipeline and an energy efficiency bill to boot.

“If everyone cooperates we just might be able to get an efficiency bill that both parties have worked on, very hard, and it’s very important, will create a lot of jobs in our country, on an important part of our energy mix, and we may also be able to get a vote on Keystone,” Landrieu said Wednesday.

But her Republican Senate counterpart from Louisiana may throw a wrench into the process, with David Vitter again floating a contentious amendment eliminating health benefits for lawmakers and congressional staff.

House Republicans from Louisiana, including Landrieu challenger Bill Cassidy, sent a letter Monday to Landrieu, the chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, seeking support for legislation to bypass the Obama administration.

“We can no longer trust the President and Senator Reid to make the best decision for the American people on this issue,” the lawmakers wrote. “The President has not signed energy legislation into law and Senator Reid has not allowed a vote on energy legislation in the U.S. Senate for over 4 years. We encourage you to quickly move this or similar legislation through the Senate as soon as possible.”

Republican aides think falling short of the 60 votes that would undoubtedly be needed to advance the pipeline approval amendment could hurt Landrieu. The Democrat has touted her influence as the new chairwoman of the energy panel as among the reasons Louisianans should return her to the Senate this fall.

At this point, the vote looks like it would be too close for comfort on both sides.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., the No. 3 in the Democratic leadership, said talks are ongoing for separate votes on Keystone and the bipartisan energy efficiency bill championed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

“We have made a decision that we do some kind of separate vote on Keystone,” he said.

Schumer acknowledged that Democrats had plans for a nonbinding measure on the pipeline issue. But that clearly became untenable to Republicans after the State Department moved to indefinitely delay the process.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who is involved in the negotiations, said backers are close to the 60 votes they need.

“I think we are at about 56, right in that range,” Hoeven said. “We have another six or seven who have said maybe.”

Hoeven said the amendment would approve the pipeline, taking the decision out of the administration’s hands.

A stand-alone Keystone bill could be vetoed by Obama without dooming the energy efficiency bill.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about Keystone Wednesday and said the approval has to be done “by the book” and said politics should not enter the decision.

Obama hasn’t vetoed a bill since 2010, with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., helping to keep bills Obama opposes from reaching his desk.

But Vitter’s amendment could gum up the works.

Vitter announced Wednesday he would again seek to offer an amendment that would effectively eliminate the employer contribution to health insurance plans for members of Congress and their staffs, as well as prevent certain senior officials from getting health care tax credits for purchasing insurance on the exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act.

“Americans are struggling with the ongoing Obamacare train wreck every day. They’re losing the coverage they liked, seeing their premiums skyrocket, and finding it hard to enroll in anything new,” Vitter said. “But what makes it even worse is that while all this is going on, Washington elites have carved out a special exemption and subsidy for themselves.”

Reid blasted Vitter’s amendment, saying it would be unfair for staffers to not get employer-sponsored health care like other full-time employees. He suggested Vitter could derail the entire agreement on the energy efficiency bill.

“I guess he had such a good time a year ago,” Reid said. “Maybe he wants to kill energy efficiency again.”

Landrieu did not mince words.

“It doesn’t change anything,” Landrieu said of Vitter’s amendment. “It just makes clear that Sen. Vitter will put getting headlines above getting things done for the country.”

Asked if Vitter’s latest move makes it more difficult to work with him, she replied, “It’s always difficult.”

“I don’t understand anything about what he’s doing,” Landrieu said.

And Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who, like Landrieu, faces a tough re-election and wants a binding vote on the pipeline, urged Vitter to stand down.

“If you want to fix [Obamacare] there are all kinds of ideas that we can work on. But let’s work on energy next week. … It’s important to his state, my state and Keystone is one that we should be able to get to a possibility here. But he needs to get off of Obamacare.”

A senior Democratic aide said it would be up to Portman and GOP leadership to corral members seeking to offer terribly extraneous amendments. Republicans have been practically salivating for a big energy policy debate, saying Reid has blocked it for years.

Portman said he hopes Vitter will abstain too.

“We should keep the amendments to the broad and important field of energy, and there’s plenty of energy-related issues that we should debate,” he said.

The other energy-related amendments could make for difficult votes, too. Hoeven said that the deal also would include allowing GOP amendments to Shaheen-Portman, including opposing coal regulations and boosting liquid natural gas exports.

Geof Koss and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.


Correction: May 1, 2:23 p.m.

An earlier version misidentified the state Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., represents.

Comments (69)

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  1. MarkDonners

    April 30, 2014
    11:11 p.m.

    The tar sands are an environmental holocaust.. the dirtiest source of oil in the world located in an area the size of Florida…. Alberta tar sands are a blackened treeless moonscape that can be seen by satellite, in what used to be pristine and old growth boreal forest and wetlands. Spewing lakes of toxic sludge which routinely kills thousands of wildlife, by 2020 they are expected to emit more than 141 million tons of greenhouse gases – more than double that currently produced by all the cars and trucks in Canada. Alberta has the world’s largest dam built to hold the toxic waste and sludge from just one tar sands operation. 350 million cubic metres is the volume of water currently allocated to the tar sands, the equivalent to the water required by a city of two million people. Alberta is now the industrial air pollution capital of Canada, with over one billion kilograms of emissions. Alberta wildlife and fish is being devastated and First Nation communities downstream of tar sands operation have been experiencing unprecedented rates of bile and colon cancer, lupus and other diseases from tar sands. This is what that renegade Harper is extorting and bribing other countries to accept. Environmental renegade doesn’t begin to describe the Harper tyrant, he’s sabotaged climate talks, massively polluted air and water, clearcut Canada, and engaged in horrific bloodbath massacres of wildlife. The pipeline would only make a few corporate billionaires in Canada and the US rich, create a total of 35 permanent jobs, people are being kicked off their properties because of it from Canadian companies using eminent domain on Americans, they can slide by with hundreds of thousands of gallons of unreported “spillage” into American lakes, streams and aquifers and the oil from that pipeline would be shipped off to China after being refined by Texas refineries..aside from the Harper government’s continuing destruction of Canada there is virtually no benefit to the American public from that insane pipeline, only massive harm.

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  3. Verific

    May 1, 2014
    5:13 a.m.

    “Schumer acknowledged that Democrats had plans for a nonbinding measure on the pipeline issue. But that clearly became untenable to Republicans after the State Department moved to indefinitely delay the process.”

    And there we are.

    Despite the allegations against allegedly “vulnerable” Democrats, Republicans are the ones pushing this boondoggle.

    Still, it is time that Democrats like Mary Landrieu state exactly WHY they like the Keystone XL so much, especially since it will not create ANY jobs for her home state.

    • Dennis Killian

      May 1, 2014
      5:45 a.m.

      Even some Democrats that are not up for reelection have come out in favor of the Keystone pipeline being approved as soon as possible.
      Senators are not supposed to vote on just what is good for their state.

      • stevenharnack

        May 1, 2014
        4:09 p.m.

        Just what’s good for their bottom line.

        • Dennis Killian

          May 19, 2014
          8:41 p.m.

          The bottom line is that if most of the people of her state are against the pipeline then she will lose reelection, that is how the process works. Now she may lose anyway because of Obamacare, and her opponent is also for the pipeline.


    May 1, 2014
    9:09 a.m.

    White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about Keystone Wednesday and said the approval has to be done “by the book” and said politics should not enter the decision.

    That has to be the funniest line I have read all year.
    Everything about Obama and his decision not to decide on the Keystone Pipeline is political.

    • stevenharnack

      May 1, 2014
      4:07 p.m.

      The Republicans have continuously carped about getting approval for the pipeline and know that it is within their grasp to get it passed in the Senate they are trying to sabotage it purely to stick it to Landrieu! Who is playing politics again? You know, you really should read the article before you plant your foot in your mouth.


        May 1, 2014
        5:43 p.m.

        I obviously know more about Landrieu and politics then you do.

        • Verific

          May 3, 2014
          2:55 a.m.

          How much do you think the $ 1.3 million in campaign donations that Mary Landrieu has received from oil/gas/coal companies has to do with her stand against other Democrats regarding the Keystone XL, which does not even run through her state nor provide ANY jobs for her state ?

          • Dennis Killian

            May 3, 2014
            3:44 a.m.

            Do you have any proof that it doesn’t provide any jobs for her state ?
            Because shes a Democrat does she have to vote as the majority of her party ?
            Do you think that the oil and gas industry is going to donate to a politician that agrees that infrastructure is important of one that thinks it’s not ?

            Sometimes you’re so silly.

          • TOMMYHOUR

            May 3, 2014
            9:04 a.m.

            Terminals and refineries are in Louisiana.


    May 19, 2014
    7:36 p.m.

    Another thing that the republicans should be “ashamed” of, is the fact that they STILL haven’t passed the unemployment extension bill, for the 2.6 million unemployed families in this country. Since late last December, the republicans have held the extension bill “hostage” in the senate, for political leverage, to get the Koch Brother’s XL Oil Pipeline approved in return for their vote on the extension bill. The republicans have used these unfortunate families as bargaining chips, not caring about what these families are going through. Many of these families have lost everything, while waiting these past five months for the extension bill to pass, to help them survive financially until they find employment. The republicans have continued to make delay after delay, stalling so that time would run out for the passing of the bill in the senate. This was a deliberate act, and these families will now have to continue suffering and struggling without any income. The republicans have shown a total lack of compassion, and common decency towards these families. There are now 2.6 million unemployed, and the number is growing every week. The American people are angry and will voice their anger at the ballot box in the coming elections. They will remember how the republican senate made their lives a living hell..

    • Dennis Killian

      May 19, 2014
      7:42 p.m.

      Yes we should just pass a bill so that everyone can have free unemployment forever !

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