Will Keystone XL Save Mary Landrieu’s Senate Seat? Probably Not

Mary Landrieu's Keystone XL Hail Mary isn't going to save her.

Keystone XL Map

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.

FILED UNDER: 2014 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Guarneri says:

    “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.”

    Now hold on a second. I’d just come to grips with the “fact” that Republicans are just obstructionist bastards hell bent on making Obama fail and now I learn that legislation has been held up by Harry Reid for political reasons?

    Damn it all. Now that ruins everything.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    I suppose…if you think that the unfettered burning of fossil fuels, the resulting damage to the environment including AGW, and the inevitable oil spills are political issues.

    Frankly…I wish this thing would just get built…then we’ll have one more item on the interminably long fvcking list of things Republicans have been absolutely wrong about.

    Landrieu isn’t going to benefit from this anymore than any other typical American is. The Koch Bros…who already ship 25% of the Canadian oil sands crude…will make some more money with which to buy SCOTUS votes. That is all.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    The State Departments report says XL will create all of 35 permanent jobs in the US. Short term construction jobs. Big profits for oil companies. Some long term environmental risk. Essentially no long term benefit to the US. Why are we even considering this thing?

  4. JKB says:

    @Guarneri: Now that ruins everything.

    That’s Harry Reid for you. Ruins it for everybody.

  5. Scott says:

    What I don’t understand is this: The Keystone XL pipeline will ship oil from Canada to Texas refineries. Isn’t that in direct competition to Louisiana oil producers and refiners? How is this in Louisiana interests?

  6. JKB says:


    Well, you can build the pipeline or continue to run the risk of one of Warren Buffets trains derailing. Well, until the Canadians extend their pipeline network to Nova Scotia and the run tankers to the GOMEX refineries. Of course, trains are at risk to tornadoes and tankers are at risk to hurricanes and “perfect storms”. Oh, and the tankers will hug the East coast to avoid the Gulfstream. Pipelines on the other hand are underground and have sensors all along the way for immediate and rapid response to any breaks that might cause minor near-surface spills that will be remediated with ease and low cost.

  7. JKB says:


    You ever heard of the LOOP? The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port. It is where we offload the supertankers just west of the Mississippi Delta. Louisiana oil producers aren’t upset about crude coming in, they welcome it.

    The U.S. imports more than 50 percent of its daily crude oil requirements, and LOOP plays a key role in meeting those needs through our distribution and shipping capabilities.

  8. C. Clavin says:


    Pipelines on the other hand are underground and have sensors all along the way for immediate and rapid response to any breaks that might cause minor near-surface spills that will be remediated with ease and low cost.

    What flavor is that kool-aid you are gulping?
    I have one word for you…Mayflower, Arkansas.

  9. Scott says:

    @JKB: Never heard of LOOP. Interesting. Are you saying that the Keystone XL pipeline will reduce supertanker imports and Louisiana oil producers welcome that? Hmm.

  10. JKB says:

    @C. Clavin:

    A very disruptive spill but 6 months later….

    Now consider those 200,000 gallons, not barrels being released from a ship foundering in storm off the East Coast? Or being catastrophically dumped from a train and mixed with other chemicals from other tank cars?

  11. C. Clavin says:

    Consider not burning fossil fuels at all.
    But that would take imagination and vision.
    Never mind.

  12. Guarneri says:

    I need a day of rest and mourning. Maybe grief counseling. Harry Reid has been holding up legislation for politics. Next thing you know you guys are going to be telling me some ACA advisor has been tipping the bottle and making serial “speak-o’s” or the IRS staff has grand mal seizures when they try to find emails……..

    I must say, though, I’d sure like to meet the wizard guys and gals responsible for fixing all the horrors of XL overnight so it can be voted on now. We could sure use their help in the Middle East.

  13. steve says:

    Woo hoo! A jobs program for Canada. Just what we need.


  14. JKB says:

    @C. Clavin: Consider not burning fossil fuels at all.


    I like trees. I like most of what non-animal energy has wrought for all the world. I really like that it has brought most of the humans on earth out of real poverty, although many lament their relative poverty to others.

    I also, don’t want to watch, much less be a victim of, the putting down of 6.5 billion humans that would be necessary to arrive at a population sustainable without fossil fuels.

    Why do you hate people and want them to suffer and die?

  15. C. Clavin says:


    the putting down of 6.5 billion humans

    WTF are you talking about, Willis?

  16. C. Clavin says:
  17. Ultimate irony is that after all the fighting over the pipeline, even if it gets approved it may not get built as the recent plunge in oil prices makes it a money loser:

    Economics no longer makes Keystone pipeline viable

  18. Jimbo OPKS says:

    @gVOR08: How many permanent jobs are created by windmills? I hate the way jobs in construction are devalued. By definition, every job in construction is not permanent because it goes away when the project is done, just like consulting engineering and architecture. Do we not count?

  19. wr says:

    @JKB: “Well, until the Canadians extend their pipeline network to Nova Scotia and the run tankers to the GOMEX refineries”

    And yet — and try to follow me here — the Candadians AREN’T extending their pipeline network on their own land. They want to put their pipeline on American soil.

    Think maybe they know something?

  20. wr says:

    @Jimbo OPKS: ” How many permanent jobs are created by windmills? ”

    Could you please post a link to anyone explaining that building windmills would threaten to obliterate one of the most important watersheds in the country? Because otherwise these two things have absolultely nothing in common.

    If you care so much about construction jobs, maybe you should be thinking about the Republicans’ refusal to pay for the trillions of dollars of necessary repairs and rebuilding of our national infrastructure.

  21. Lib Cap et al says:

    Here’s what I have to ask: Crude prices dropped over $25.00 down from over $100 / barrel

    You have seen the results at the pump, and that is a lagging indicator.

    Many are predicting lower prices, some going as far as $30 / per barrel.

    While I do not imagine that happening (as some production will shut down as it is not economically sound to continue) , how can the GOP still be all gol-derned pumped up on passing a bill to support something not economically viable?

  22. gVOR08 says:

    @Jimbo OPKS: Of course construction jobs count. But if you’re looking at cost/benefit over say a fifty year period, a one year construction job counts for 2% of a permanent job. (Oversimplified, but you see the point.) Had XL been “shovel ready” in 2009, those temporary construction jobs would have been great stimulus. In 2016, or ’20, or whenever, likely less so.

  23. stonetools says:

    Frankly, I’m at the stage where I don’t give a fig what happens in the red states. Let them have their pipeline, and if it screws up the Ogallalla Aquifer, then eff ’em. Maybe their conservative politicans and pundits can explain to them where they can get another source of fresh water from. Then the Great Plains can go back to its earlier name, the Great American Desert.
    Of course if that happens, we’ll hear a whole bunch about the national compact and how Big Gumint should bail them out-the way Piyush Jindal came running to the feds after the Deepwater Horizon accident.

    The people who are saying how safe the Keystone pipeline would be are the same jackalopes who assured us that fracking wouldn’t cause earthquakes.
    Wrong again, Bob.

    Evidence is growing that fracking for oil and gas is causing earthquakes that shake the heartland.

    States such as Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Ohio are being hit by earthquakes that appear linked to oil and gas activity. While the quakes are far more often tied to disposal of drilling waste, scientists also increasingly have started pointing to the fracking process itself.

    Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2014/11/04/3788232/fracking-can-trigger-earthquakes.html#storylink=cpy

  24. grumpy realist says:

    @stonetools: Oooh, maybe we can get some fracking done in Illinois and set off the New Madrid fault?

    (P.S. Anyone who starts messing around next to our fresh drinking water supply deserves what he gets.)

  25. Tyrell says:

    There need to be the following conditions: not one drop goes to other countries. Gas from this pipeline will be sold at the pump tax free. Any costs of cleanup of spills, fumes, leaks, overflows, explosions can’t be passed on to the consumer. Any damages to car paint from overflows must be paid for by the oil company. No ethanol or other gummy additives are allowed.
    Watch “Gashole” movie.

  26. Guarneri says:

    Heh. How times change. Lefties used to bleat about Middle East wars for oil. Now all of the sudden it’s economics.

    Energy is a national security issue, and an issue of our human treasure. We should pursue these alternatives so as not to be beholden to a bunch of camel diddlers and religious nuts. The sudden interest in economic analysis is just a smoke screen for enviro- nut jobs.

  27. JKB says:

    Nice map Doug has up there. Of course, there are actually hundreds of pipelines traversing the area showing one pipeline in that image.

    The oil will move. Pipeline is the safest way to move it. Or we can continue to move the oil via train, truck and eventually, VLCC.

  28. Tyrell says:

    @JKB: VLCC ? I am a little slow on some of these new acronyms.
    One needs to keep in mind the government/oil complex, just as powerful and connected as the military/industrial complex. Many of us remember the so-called gas “shortage crisis” of the ’70’s which brought long lines, doubled prices, rationing, and general disruption. The biggest hoax ever pulled on the American people.

  29. JKB says:


    VLCC – Very Large Crude Carrier

    Although, realistically, it would probably be smaller less technological superior vessels, perhaps even barge.

    The “gas crisis” was caused by price controls. The last vestiges of the loser New Deal policies that finally dragged the economy to the brink after the rest of the world got back on their feet after WWII.