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Veto hinted if Congress OKs oil pipeline

William Douglas
McClatchy Washington Bureau

Washington — The House of Representatives approved a bill Friday authorizing construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, setting up a potential showdown between President Barack Obama and Capitol Hill over the controversial project.

Following the House's 252-161 vote, attention shifts to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where lawmakers are expected to vote Tuesday on a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who faces a runoff election next month to keep her Senate seat.

If the bill overcomes the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, Obama would have to decide whether to sign it, a calculation complicated by 2014 election politics and the White House’s hope of building a presidential legacy on environmental and climate change issues.

“The president doesn't have any more elections to win,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after the vote. “It's time he start listening to the vast majority of Americans who support Keystone and help get more people back to work.”

House and Senate Republicans have championed the pipeline as a shovel-ready job creator that would allow reductions in oil imports. Obama, liberal Democrats and green groups have expressed concerns about the project’s environmental impact.

Obama didn't sound as if he were in a bill-signing mood when he was asked about the pipeline during a visit Friday with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon.

“If my Republican friends really want to focus on what's good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what we are doing to produce more homegrown energy,” he said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest had suggested Thursday in Myanmar that Obama would veto the bill.

“I think it's fair to say that our dim view on these kinds of proposals has not changed,” he said.

Signing the bill might help Landrieu, who failed to gain over 50 percent of the vote in her re-election bid and faces a runoff Dec. 6 against Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who sponsored the House Keystone bill.

If built, the Keystone XL pipeline would stretch 1,700 miles and bring crude oil from the Canadian oil sands in Alberta to American refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The project has been a political dispute — and talking point — for years, with Republicans using it as an example of what they say is the Obama administration's lack of concern for job creation and most Democrats characterizing it as Exhibit A of the Republicans' disregard for the environment.

In April, the White House delayed a decision on the pipeline until after the November elections, saying administration agencies needed more time to analyze pipeline-related litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court.

The debate over the pipeline suddenly reignited Wednesday, when Landrieu, aided by other moderate Democrats, pressed outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for a vote on the project, something he had been reluctant to have.

Within hours of Landrieu's request, the House announced its intention to vote on Cassidy's bill. While thrilled to have votes on the pipeline in both chambers, congressional Republicans dismissed the upcoming Senate vote as a stunt to boost Landrieu's re-election prospects.

“Now, miraculously, and I will call it a job bill, the Senate is now entertaining this because of one job,” Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., said during debate Thursday on the House bill.

“The tens of thousands of jobs of all these Americans who you've turned a deaf ear and blind eye to are now being answered by the Senate because of one job ... one senator who has the possibility of losing her seat because of the Keystone pipeline not being able to go through the Senate,” he said.

Landrieu has insisted that the Senate vote isn't about her political career. Meanwhile, House Democrats attacked the pipeline project as a sweetheart deal benefiting the oil companies and Canada.

In the end, all but one Republican voted for the bill: Rep. Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids, voted “present.” Thirty-one Democrats crossed party lines to support the measure.