Obama’s Pick for Ambassador to Canada Likely to Be Grilled on Keystone Pipeline

National Journal
Alex Brown
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Alex Brown
Sept. 24, 2013, 5 p.m.

If Bruce Hey­man wants to be the next am­bas­sad­or to Canada, he should prob­ably start pre­par­ing to an­swer some ques­tions about the Key­stone XL pipeline. But it may be too soon to ex­pect the pro­ject’s Demo­crat­ic sup­port­ers to join at­tempts to turn his con­firm­a­tion in­to a ref­er­en­dum on the con­tro­ver­sial plan to bring oil from Canada’s tar sands to re­finer­ies in the U.S.

Hey­man, a Chica­go in­vest­ment banker and a ma­jor fun­draiser for Pres­id­ent Obama’s two cam­paigns, was tapped last week to rep­res­ent the U.S. in Ot­t­awa. The post has been va­cant since Ju­ly, when Dav­id Jac­ob­son, the pre­vi­ous am­bas­sad­or, ended his ten­ure. Hey­man, now the man­aging dir­ect­or of private wealth man­age­ment at Gold­man Sachs, has long been rumored to be next in line for the post.

“I think the views of the Sen­ate have been very clear on [Key­stone], and I hope the pres­id­ent re­cog­nizes that,” said Sen. Mark Be­gich, D-Alaska. “But I think the am­bas­sad­or is go­ing to be a rep­res­ent­at­ive of the gov­ern­ment. Whatever the fi­nal de­cision of the State De­part­ment and the pres­id­ent, ob­vi­ously, he’ll ad­here to that. But … he doesn’t get to have a say. I mean, the am­bas­sad­or isn’t the one who’s thumbs-up or thumbs-down; it’s the pres­id­ent right now.”

Be­gich is a sup­port­er of the pipeline — cur­rently stalled in a State De­part­ment re­view — that would carry heavy crude from the Al­berta tar sands to Gulf Coast re­finer­ies.

Oth­er Demo­crat­ic Key­stone ad­voc­ates were more hes­it­ant to of­fer an opin­ion on Hey­man’s con­firm­a­tion. “I haven’t even met him; I’m not even fo­cused on it,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., adding in the next breath, “Key­stone should be ap­proved.”

Sen. Mark Pry­or, D-Ark., ex­pressed hope that Hey­man “sets his views aside based on whatever U.S. policy is.” But should his po­s­i­tion on Key­stone factor in­to his Sen­ate con­firm­a­tion? “They can factor in any­thing they want in­to any nom­in­ee they want,” he said. “That’s just kind of how it works. I’ll look in­to it.”

Re­pub­lic­ans were less wary of a Key­stone-fo­cused con­firm­a­tion pro­cess. “Oh, yeah,” said Sen. James In­hofe, R-Okla., when asked if Hey­man should be ques­tioned about the pipeline. “That’s a huge en­ergy and jobs is­sue, and it’s one that should be fo­cused” on.

Don Can­ton, a spokes­man for Sen. John Ho­even, R-N.D., ad­ded that the pro­posed pipeline “is an im­port­ant is­sue between the U.S. and Canada, and that Mr. Hey­man’s view on the pipeline and the eco­nom­ic growth both coun­tries could real­ize as a res­ult of it is, of course, a crit­ic­al con­sid­er­a­tion in any con­firm­a­tion pro­cess.”

House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers also urged their Sen­ate col­leagues to press the is­sue when Hey­man’s con­firm­a­tion comes be­fore the up­per cham­ber. “Key­stone XL is just one of many new oil and gas pipelines and trans­mis­sion lines that need to be built between our two na­tions,” said House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man Fred Up­ton, R-Mich. “It is im­per­at­ive that our nom­in­ee for am­bas­sad­or ap­pre­ci­ate and wel­come this op­por­tun­ity to strengthen our ties with our north­ern neigh­bor.”

Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., chair­man of the Com­merce, Man­u­fac­tur­ing, and Trade Sub­com­mit­tee, agrees. “As the nom­in­ee, Mr. Hey­man needs to state clearly wheth­er or not he’ll be an am­bas­sad­or who will work with our na­tion’s No. 1 trad­ing part­ner to ex­ped­ite ap­prov­al of this shovel-ready pro­ject,” said Terry spokes­man Larry Farns­worth.

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