Harry Reid Floats Keystone Vote — but What Is He Really Offering?

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) leaves the Capitol building on October 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. Congress continues to struggle to find a solution to end the government shutdown, which is currently in its 13th day. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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Jason Plautz
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Jason Plautz
April 29, 2014, 1:43 p.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans may get their long-awaited vote on the Key­stone XL pipeline as early as next week as part of the de­bate over an en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill. But will it be the vote they want?

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id opened the door to a vote on the con­tro­ver­sial oil-sands pipeline Tues­day as part of the de­bate on the Shaheen-Port­man en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill. “I’m open to any­thing that will move en­ergy ef­fi­ciency,” Re­id said in re­sponse to a ques­tion about a vote on the pipeline.

Sen. John Ho­even, the North Dakota Re­pub­lic­an who’s been at the front of the Key­stone ap­prov­al push, said he’s been dis­cuss­ing a vote on con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al for the pipeline, not a looser sense-of-the-Sen­ate res­ol­u­tion. A non­bind­ing res­ol­u­tion on ap­prov­al or on an ex­ped­ited timeline would have been ac­cept­able un­til Pres­id­ent Obama “changed the ballgame” by delay­ing the dead­line for re­view of the pipeline’s per­mit, he said.

Re­id told re­port­ers Tues­day that he’s had con­ver­sa­tions with Ho­even and fel­low pipeline boost­ers Rob Port­man, a Re­pub­lic­an, and Demo­crat Mary Landrieu in the last 24 hours about pair­ing a Key­stone vote to the en­ergy bill. However, he left open how bind­ing that vote could be.

“They keep mov­ing the ball,” Re­id said. “You know, ori­gin­ally it was go­ing to be sense-of-the-Sen­ate; now they can’t de­cide on what they want to vote on. So I can’t agree to something that I don’t know what it is.”

A non­bind­ing Sense of the Sen­ate solu­tion — which already gathered 62 votes on last year’s budget — does not seem ac­cept­able to Re­pub­lic­ans. In a state­ment, Re­pub­lic­an Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said: “It’s easy to talk the talk, but it’s time for all mem­bers to walk the walk on the Key­stone XL pipeline.”

Re­pub­lic­ans also took to the floor Tues­day af­ter­noon to dis­cuss their sup­port of the pipeline, which would bring hun­dreds of thou­sands of bar­rels of oil a day from Al­berta’s oil-sands pro­jects to the Gulf Coast.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hamp­shire, one of the spon­sors of the en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill in ques­tion, said there’s been no agree­ment yet on the amend­ment pro­cess for the meas­ure, which is ex­pec­ted to come to the floor next week. It’s un­clear if the Key­stone vote would be an amend­ment to the bill or brought up as a stan­dalone, but Ho­even said that it must be at­tached to the en­ergy bill in some form.

As he pushes to 60 votes, Ho­even said he has nearly all Re­pub­lic­ans on board and a hand­ful of Demo­crats, with six or sev­en “maybes.” However, it’s less likely that he will be able to garner 67 votes to over­come a pres­id­en­tial veto — leav­ing a vote in any form as largely sym­bol­ic.

COR­REC­TION: Sen. John Thune’s state was in­cor­rect in an earli­er ver­sion of this story.

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