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Keystone XL Approved by Congress, Facing Death by Veto

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 270-152 to pass a bill that would grant approval to the Keystone XL pipeline, setting up the first major veto of Obama’s presidency.

Passage fell largely along party lines in a 270-152 vote, with 29 Democrats joining all but one Republican, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), in supporting the pipeline.  Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation overwhelmingly supported the bill, with 12 Republicans and Democrats Bob Brady (D, Philadelphia) and Mike Doyle (D, Allegheny) voting for its passage.  Only Philadelphia Democrats Chakka Fattah and Brendan Boyle voted against the legislation.

Wednesday’s vote was the 11th time the House has passed legislation to build Keystone XL, including a bill approving the pipeline passed during the first week of the new Congress. The vote followed a 62-36 vote in the Senate, with both PA Senators Bob Casey, Jr. and Pat Toomey voting in support.  The Senate version approved by the House includes a number of amendments, including support for energy efficiency and a nonbinding recognition that climate change is real.

The White House has repeatedly said President Obama will veto the legislation, if for no other reason than that it disrupts a process that gives the executive branch exclusive authority to issue permits for cross-border pipelines.  The State Department held off its consideration for almost eight months in 2014 while issues ranged in local and state courts.  Comments from federal agencies were due to the State Department by Feb. 2, but the Obama administration has not set a time frame for the department’s determination, Secretary of State John Kerry’s recommendation to Obama or the president’s final decision.

Keystone supporters including many Democrats and labor groups argue the pipeline would create jobs and make the U.S. less reliant on oil from the Middle East. Some urged Obama to reconsider his veto threat during debate over the bill.

“I think he should sign this bill, because we all agree we need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, and pipelines are critical to the economy,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).

President Obama previously said he will veto the bill, but he has not clarified whether he will approve or reject the pipeline itself.

Republicans plan to wait until after next week’s Presidents’ Day recess to send the Keystone bill to the White House in order to maximize the public spotlight on the pipeline and its expected presidential veto, ERG was told.  Keystone backers in both the House and the Senate appear to lack the votes necessary to override a presidential veto.  The official 10-day veto clock – which excludes Sundays – for Obama would not start until after the GOP sends the bill to the White House, guaranteeing that Congress will be in town to when Obama vetoes the controversial bill.