Two red state Democratic senators signaled support Thursday for legislation authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline opposed by President Barack Obama, Democratic Party leaders, and influential Democratic donors.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) told the Washington Free Beacon in a statement that she will support legislation passed by the House on Wednesday to approve construction of the pipeline if it comes to the Senate floor.
"Yesterday’s vote on H.R. 3 in the House is another clear indication the majority of those in Congress believe it is time to move forward with the Keystone XL Pipeline," Heitkamp said.
The legislation, authored by Rep. Lee Terry (R., Neb.), would circumvent presidential approval of the project, which would carry crude oil from Canada through a 1,700-mile pipeline to refineries on the Gulf coast.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) also said she will support the bill, telling the Free Beacon, "our national and economic security will be bolstered with the construction of this pipeline."
"The list of reasons to approve the Keystone Pipeline is now almost as long as the pipeline itself. I have strongly supported building the pipeline since I led the first bipartisan letter to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011, and I remain committed to doing everything I can to break ground on it as soon as possible," Landrieu said.
Landrieu and Heitkamp both supported a proposal in March to move forward with construction of the pipeline without sign-off from the administration.
"This is a shovel-ready project which has undergone a thorough review process; it is time to put Americans to work on this project that will create good-paying jobs and take important steps forward to reducing our dependence on foreign oil," Heitkamp told the Free Beacon.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has not signaled whether he will allow a floor vote on the legislation, which could put his caucus in the awkward position of voting on a wildly popular project that is vehemently opposed by the party’s environmentalist base.
"Red state Democrats can either support job creation, modernized energy infrastructure, and the middle class benefits of cheaper energy, or they can dance to the tune of a handful of liberal billionaire enviro whackjobs," said Republican strategist Rick Wilson.
"Then they can explain [to voters] why we're essentially saying no to that cheap energy and giving it to China," Wilson added, in reference to signals from Canadian officials that they will sell crude to China if the pipeline is not approved.
Senate Republicans nonetheless expressed hope that Reid, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, will allow a floor vote on Terry’s bill.
"We’ve seen multiple times that there is bipartisan support in the Senate for Keystone," a Senate Republican leadership aide told the Free Beacon. "One would hope that Democrat senators who do support the pipeline could prevail upon the majority leader to bring this bill to the floor and finally do something to create jobs and make energy more affordable."
The aide lamented that Reid "has shown that jobs and North American energy independence are not a priority for him and he has previously refused to bring bills to the floor that would break through the Obama administration’s stalling on approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline."
Some efforts to authorize construction of the pipeline have come to the floor, but, despite some Democratic defections, enough toed the environmentalist line to defeat the proposals.
Obama is unlikely to sign the legislation even if it does make it through the Senate. The White House signaled on Tuesday that the president would likely veto the bill.
Observers say procedural schemes to pass the bill, such as tying it to a debt limit increase, would likely bear little fruit.
"I have no doubt [Reid] will take the necessary steps to prevent something like Keystone from being attached" to a debt limit deal, Chris Miller, a former energy and environmental aide for Reid, told National Journal.
Even as the Senate takes up the legislation, a number of Republicans are urging Obama to reject environmentalists’ demands that approval of the pipeline be tied to additional regulations on carbon emissions.
"You should approve the Keystone XL pipeline project on its merits alone without suddenly moving the goalposts after more than four years of review by tethering its fate to wholly unrelated and economically disastrous new regulatory policies," urged 24 Republican Senators in a Thursday letter to the president.
Update Friday, May 24, 1:03 p.m.: Following publication of this story, a member of Heitkamp's staff wrote to say that despite the senator's effusive support for the project and her statement that "yesterday’s vote on HR. 3 in the House, is another clear indication the majority of those in Congress believe it is time to move forward with the Keystone XL Pipeline" that the senator "didn’t say she would support HR 3."