WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress inched closer Friday to a possible showdown with President Barack Obama over the Keystone XL oil pipeline as the Republican-controlled House approved the project. Supporters in the Democratic-run Senate predicted they will get the 60 votes needed to pass it next week.
The House vote was 252-161 in favor of the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., in an effort to boost his chances to take a Louisiana Senate seat away from Democrat Mary Landrieu. The two are headed for a Dec. 6 runoff and have been touting their energy credentials in the oil and gas-producing state.
Should the Senate send the bill to Obama for his signature, he would face a decision that pits some of his environmental concerns about the pipeline, mainly its consequences for global warming, against potentially helping a fellow Democrat making a longshot bid to retain her Senate seat.
The House bill was supported by 221 Republicans, with not a single GOP lawmaker voting against it. Thirty-one Democrats backed the bill, while 161 rejected it.
"This will make it easier for the Senate to do right by the American people and finally vote on building the pipeline," Cassidy said in a statement after the vote.
The bill's passage marked the ninth time the House had passed a bill to speed up the pipeline's construction.
Landrieu pushed the Senate to hold its upcoming vote on the measure. In a call with reporters from Louisiana, where she was campaigning, Landrieu called herself the "sparkplug" to get the Keystone bill through Congress. The House bill is identical to one introduced by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Landrieu in May.
"This bill was drafted to go the distance," said Landrieu.
As of Friday, supporters of the measure appeared to have at least 59 of the 60 Senate votes they would need for approval next week. That included all 45 Republicans and 14 Democrats.
Landrieu conceded, though, that it is unlikely the Senate or House will have the two-thirds majorities that would be needed to override an Obama veto of the bill. She said she did not know Obama's plans.
"He most certainly understands my position," Landrieu said. "He understands that there are 15-plus Democrats in the Senate that really want to build the Keystone pipeline."
If the bill fails to pass the Senate next week, Hoeven said he would reintroduce it next year when Republicans will control the chamber. That would make it one of many showdowns expected with Obama over energy and environmental policy after Republicans take full control of Congress in January.
The $8 billion pipeline has become a symbol for the divisions on the country's energy and environmental policy. Environmentalists have framed the issue as a significant test of Obama's commitment to address climate change. Republicans and other supporters say it is necessary for jobs and energy security, because the U.S. would be importing oil from its neighbor, not the Middle East. Still others have criticized the project because some of the product refined from the oil could be exported to other countries, instead of used here.
The project has been stalled by environmental reviews, by objections to the route it would take and by politics for six years. While the White House has issued veto threats on similar legislation before, it had yet to formally do so Friday.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it was time for Obama to listen to the American people, especially after Republican gains 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," Boehner said.
Obama, questioned about the issue while traveling on the other side of the globe, said the administration's long-stalled review of the project cannot be completed before knowing the outcome of a legal challenge to the pipeline's route through Nebraska. He also reiterated that he will ultimately judge the project on its impact on climate change and energy prices.
"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. "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. That doesn't have an impact on U.S. gas prices."
The State Department said in a Jan. 31 report that the project would not significantly boost carbon emissions because the oil was likely to find its way to market by other means. It added that transporting it by rail or truck would cause greater environmental problems than if the Keystone XL pipeline were built.
The 1,179-mile project is proposed to go from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.