The Keystone XL Vote Will Come Down To A Small Group Of Senate Democrats (UPDATES)

11/14/2014 07:04 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2014
  • Kate Sheppard Senior reporter and the environment and energy editor, The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -– The Senate's vote next week on legislation to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline may come down to a handful of Democrats, who are now being courted aggressively by advocates on both sides of the debate.

As of Friday afternoon, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) had 59 confirmed "yes" votes for the legislation, which she co-authored with Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota. That still leaves Landrieu one vote shy of the 60 needed to pass the measure, but The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Friday that the senator said she believed she could get to 60 and would continue to whip votes.

The bill is scheduled for debate and a vote next Tuesday.

The House passed a parallel measure on Friday by a vote of 252 to 161. That measure was sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Landrieu's opponent in Louisiana's upcoming Senate runoff election.

"The Keystone bill that the Senate favors has now cleared the approval path in the House," Cassidy said in a statement after the vote. "This will make it easier for the Senate to do right by the American people and finally vote on building the pipeline."

However, the outlook in the Senate remains unclear. Landrieu picked up the votes of Democrats Tom Carper of Delaware and Michael Bennet of Colorado on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Both senators had been considered on the fence.

Carper's vow to back the bill surprised some, as the senator has previously deferred to the Obama administration's decision-making. A spokesperson for Carper told The Huffington Post in an email on Friday, "The Keystone pipeline approval process has been long and difficult, and caught up in partisan politics for far too long. Senator Carper believes it is time to set politics aside and move forward in a bipartisan manner to address this complicated question. To that end, he has pledged his support for the Hoeven-Landrieu legislation."

"He is hopeful that moving forward with this bipartisan bill will pave the way for Congress to work together on other measures to increase our energy independence while also addressing the real environmental and public health threats we face from greenhouse gas pollution," the statement continued.

Bennet's office did not respond to a request for comment about the senator's decision to support the bill.

Environmental groups who oppose the pipeline are trying to rally their supporters to pressure Carper and Bennet to change their minds. The group 350.org, which has organized a number of protests against the pipeline, sent an email blast to its supporters Friday afternoon asking them to call the senators' offices.

"They need to hear from everyone that voting for Keystone XL is voting for climate denial, and that's unacceptable," the group wrote. "The bottom line: if Sens. Bennet and Carper aren't climate deniers, they shouldn't be voting like climate deniers."

In addition, several other Democrats that were considered possible "yes" votes have now said they will vote against the legislation. A spokesman for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) confirmed to HuffPost Thursday evening that the senator would not support it.

Now, eyes are on a handful of other potential pick-ups for Landrieu. Politico included three on its list: Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). King caucuses with the Democrats and has previously opposed the pipeline.

A spokesman for Rockefeller told HuffPost that he did not have an update on the senator's position on the bill as of Friday evening. King "is leaning no," a spokesperson said Friday night.

President Barack Obama seems likely to veto the measure if it does pass the Senate. At a press conference in Myanmar on Friday, Obama said he does not want to "short-circuit" the State Department's decision-making process, which is currently on hold pending the outcome of a court decision on the pipeline's proposed route through Nebraska.

"I've been clear in the past," Obama said. "My position hasn't changed, that this is a process that is supposed to be followed."

UPDATE: Nov. 15 -- Sen. Booker, who had been listed as a possible "yes" vote, said on Twitter Saturday afternoon that he would be voting "no" on the legislation.

UPDATE: Nov. 17 -- Sen. Rockefeller, another possible "yes" vote, told reporters on Monday that he would vote against Landrieu's bill, according to NBC News' Frank Thorpe.

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