Will Keystone XL Save Mary Landrieu’s Senate Seat? Probably Not
With Republican control of the Senate now a certainty, the only real question now is how big the GOP majority is going to be. Yesterday, we saw Dan Sullivan declared the winner, at least from the media’s point of view, of the Alaska Senate race, raising the number of Republicans in the Senate for the 113th Congress to 53. The only undetermined seat left at this point is Louisiana’s seat, where Mary Landrieu faces what is by all accounts a tough Runoff Election against Congressman Bill Cassidy on December 6th. Current polling has Cassidy with a 4.8 point lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average, although there has not been any polling released in that race since the November 4th election as of yet. By all accounts, though, Landrieu is considered by many to be a dead woman walking, and even the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has seemingly given up on her race. That isn’t stopping Landrieu, though. Yesterday, she took to the Senate floor in an effort to lead an effort to bring the Keystone XL pipeline up for a vote, in a blindingly obvious effort to boost her position in a state that is heavily dependent on the energy industry, and where Keystone is very heavily supported, Over on the House side, Republicans responded by announcing that they would be bringing a bill identical to Landrieu’s but sponsored by Congressman Cassidy, up for a vote today, and after much scrambling, that led many Democratic Senators to rally to Landrieu’s side and, as The Washington Post’s Robert Costa notes, that means we’ll likely see both Houses of Congress approve the pipeline in quick fashion:
For the first time in the six-year fight over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, both houses of Congress will hold a vote on the proposed project, giving each side in a Louisiana Senate election a chance to boost its candidate.
The two lawmakers locked in the runoff contest, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R), seized control of the congressional agenda Wednesday, extracting assurances from House and Senate leaders that votes will be held to bypass President Obama’s authority and authorize construction of the pipeline.
A large showing of Democratic support for the pipeline could complicate the administration’s decision-making process, given the party’s dismal showing at the polls last week. Environmentalist allies of the president are solidly against the project and have been doggedly lobbying the administration against approving it.
But Republicans successfully used the president’s environmental and climate agenda as key lines of attack against Democrats in several contested midterm races. Those results strengthen the arguments of those who believe that it would be a political mistake for the administration to deny permits for the unbuilt sections of the pipeline, and congressional approval of the project could put the administration on the defensive if it were inclined to halt the project.
Acknowledging the importance of energy to Louisiana’s economy, Landrieu and Cassidy have championed completion of the pipeline, which would transport oil from the tar sands of Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. The GOP-controlled House voted several times in recent years to support the pipeline, while the Senate, in deference to the administration’s review, has resisted holding a vote on the matter despite strong objections from several moderate Democratic senators from rural or energy-rich states.
A Senate vote next week will allow Landrieu to say that she voted for the project, putting some distance between her and Obama.
Whether Congress can authorize constructing the pipeline has been the source of debate between Republicans pining for its construction and environmental groups who say the powers rest solely with Obama.
But supporters say that Congress can use its power to regulate commerce with foreign countries to authorize the project. The legislation, as written, would authorize constructing the pipeline and use a January 2014 environmental-impact report by the State Department to satisfy federal requirements that the project be studied for adverse effects.
After their midterm losses, there is little political fallout for Senate Democrats to worry about. Landrieu, Manchin and at least nine other Democrats support building the pipeline, and Republicans are expected to make up the bulk of the votes approving the plan in the Senate next week. Even if it doesn’t pass this year, the GOP has long vowed to approve the pipeline once they win total control of Congress.
It seems unlikely that this Keystone gambit is going to do anything to save Landrieu from what is looking like a certain loss. The easiest question that voters can ask her, and which I’m sure Cassidy will ask, is why she wasn’t using her position in the Senate to push for a vote on the measure months before the election, or what she wasn’t using her position as Chairwoman of the Energy Committee to do so. Additionally, since it seems unlikely that the President is going to allow whatever bill comes out of the House and Senate become law, and that there may not be enough votes in this Congress to override that veto, whatever victory Landrieu gets here will be a pyrrhic victory. Cassidy, on the other hand, can argue that if he’s elected to the Senate there will be a guaranteed veto proof majority in Congress in favor of Keystone XL. He can also tell Louisiana voters that he has been guaranteed a spot on the Senate Energy Committee. Landrieu is now the Chairwoman of that Committee, but will obviously not hold that position in the Republican Senate, and may not even keep her seat on the committee depending on how committee assignments get parceled out. In other words, by December 6th there will be almost no reason for Louisiana voters to keep Landrieu in the Senate, and the passage of a Keystone XL isn’t going to give them much of a persuasive reason to do so. Is it possible Landrieu pulls out a win next month? In a runoff election anything is possible, but it seems increasingly unlikely and yesterday’s desperation move —- or as many reporters on Twitter called it a Mary Landrieu’s “Hail Mary —- isn’t going to help her much at all.