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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the sequester after a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House in Washington March 1, 2013. Obama pressed the U.S. Congress on Friday to avoid a government shutdown when federal spending authority runs out on March 27, saying it is the "right thing to do." (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the sequester after a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House in Washington March 1, 2013. Obama pressed the U.S. Congress on Friday to avoid a government shutdown when federal spending authority runs out on March 27, saying it is the "right thing to do." (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Obama set to okay pipeline, former insider says, as poll shows support Add to ...

Barack Obama will almost certainly approve the Keystone XL pipeline, predicts a former senior figure in the State Department who recently brought that message to Ottawa.

“I would say the chances are about four-to-one” in favour of the President approving the pipeline from Alberta to American refineries, said David Gordon. He was director of policy planning when Condoleezza Rice was secretary of state, and is currently head of research at the respected consulting firm Eurasia Group.

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Domestic political considerations – including a close fight with Republicans for control of the House of Representatives – make approval virtually inevitable, Mr. Gordon said in an interview.

A new poll obtained by The Globe and Mail shows that fully 63 per cent of Americans said that energy security was a higher priority for them than reducing greenhouse gases, while only 30 per cent felt the opposite.

And 70 per cent of Americans had a positive or somewhat positive view of the Keystone XL proposal, said the survey by Nik Nanos who conducted the research at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Nonetheless, spooked by President Barack Obama’s veto of the pipeline when it was first proposed, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is back in Washington this week, the latest in a parade of federal and provincial politicians visiting the American capital to push for Keystone 2.0.

“What strikes us is the degree to which Canadian government officials are much less certain of the outcome than we are,” Mr. Gordon observed with a bit of a chuckle.

“I would really be surprised if this didn’t happen,” he said.

Times have changed, the route has changed, and the political landscape has changed since Mr. Obama rejected Keystone 1.0. Democrats are convinced they have a shot at winning control of the House of Representatives in the 2014 mid-term elections.

That means holding and wooing blue-collar workers in key Midwestern states for whom Democrats and Republicans endlessly contest.

In what may foreshadow his intentions on Keystone, Mr. Obama talked about these voters at length during a speech to a group of high-end Democratic donors in San Francisco – the very sort who see stopping Keystone as crucial in the fight against global warming.

“If you haven’t seen a raise in a decade. If your house is still $25,000, $30,000 underwater. If you’re just happy that you’ve still got that factory job that is powered by cheap energy … you may be concerned about the temperature of the planet. But it’s probably not rising to your number-one concern,” he reminded these well-heeled eco-warriors.

“And if people think, ‘well, that’s shortsighted,’ that’s what happens when you’re struggling to get by. You’re thinking about what’s right in front of you, which is ‘how do I fill up my gas tank and how do I feed my family.’”

Which is why, Mr. Obama said, he is rededicating his administration to “middle-class families and everybody who is trying to get into the middle class to show them that we’re working just as hard for them as we are for our environmental agenda, and that we can bridge these things in a way that advances the causes of both.”

For Mr. Gordon, those words, buttressed by a recently released state department assessment that is largely favourable to the proposal, constitute advance notice of a positive decision to come later this year.

“He’s creating the political environment that minimizes the cost to him politically of signing on to this,” he said.

Nor does it hurt that “at least half the Democrats in Congress are very sympathetic to allowing this to go through,” Mr. Gordon reported.

There is still a small risk of refusal. The President is more of an environmentalist than most voters, and might be inclined to veto the proposal a second time, if the political stakes weren’t so high.

But they are extremely high. His second-term agenda is on the line.

Risk all that over a pipeline? Not likely, thinks Mr. Gordon. Not likely at all.

Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

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