Republican leaders in Congress are planning a legislative offensive to force the White House’s hand on the Keystone XL pipeline decision if the Obama administration does not declare its support for the project in the coming weeks.
Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, said Republicans are considering attaching a Keystone decision to a new law to raise the debt ceiling, which may be needed by the end of February for the U.S. to avoid another financial crisis.
The Virginia Representative said he is also looking at other bills that could include a Keystone vote. Such a move would force the White House to use its executive veto power, which would be politically dangerous in a Congressional election year.
“The United States needs Keystone,” Mr. Cantor said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos. “We’re looking at whatever we need to do to see that the pipeline gets built.”
The Republicans are turning up the heat on Keystone on the eve of Tuesday’s State of the Union address, which for President Barack Obama is an important platform to win back public support. His popularity has dipped to new lows as Americans do not see jobs coming back with the same vigour as the economy.
The GOP issued a letter to the President Friday demanding a Keystone decision, citing the need for construction jobs.
Republican Senator Rob Portman, of Ohio, said he is preparing a Keystone vote for the spring should a decision not come before.
Mr. Portman said in an interview in Davos that he believes a “show vote” would win 62 of 100 Senate votes, short of the two-thirds majority needed to block the White House but enough to embarrass the President on the eve of midterm campaigns.
He said he is looking to include such a vote in a broader energy bill to make things “awkward” for the President.
“I believe Keystone will be approved, even during the Obama administration,” said Mr. Portman, a former U.S. Trade Representative.
Congressional arm-twisting could ultimately help Mr. Obama, as he could claim that even though he has concerns about Keystone, his hand was forced. Keystone is unpopular with the so-called environmental wing of the Democrats, who will be important to many midterm campaigns.
But also challenging for the Democrats is the risk of losing Senate seats this year in pro-Keystone states, including Montana, South Dakota, Arkansas and Louisiana, which could cost the party its majority.
TransCanada Corp. applied for a presidential permit in 2008, and is now awaiting an environmental impact statement from the State Department. Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this month, when pushed during a Washington visit by Foreign Minister John Baird, that he would not be rushed.
If the assessment is favourable for the pipeline, a final permit could take another four to six months to issue, as several other departments would be given time for comment.