WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who will take charge of the chamber next month when the new GOP-led Congress takes office, offered a taste of his priorities Tuesday, telling reporters the first action taken on his watch will be passing a bill to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
A bill offered by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) that would mandate the construction of the pipeline from the tar sands of Canada to the Gulf Coast almost passed in the waning days of this Congress. It would be nearly certain to succeed in a Republican-led Senate, much as it has repeatedly passed in the GOP-led House.
"The first item up in the new Senate will be the Keystone XL pipeline, the Hoeven bill," McConnell told reporters at his final Capitol Hill news conference of the year.
"It will be open for amendment, and I hope that senators on both sides will offer energy-related amendments," McConnell said. "There will be no effort to try to micromanage the amendment process. But we'll move forward and hopefully be able to pass a very important job-creating bill early in the session."
The move does several things for McConnell. First, it will likely give him a victory advancing a long-stalled Republican priority. And, if he indeed refrains from micromanaging, it would demonstrate to Democrats that he intends to make good on promises to open up the legislative process.
But it could also signal that McConnell intends to take a tough line with President Barack Obama, who suggested earlier this year that he would lean toward vetoing the measure. Obama has said repeatedly that the legal process should be allowed to play out before Congress insists on building the controversial pipeline, which opponents say will dramatically add to carbon pollution.
By making Keystone XL his first bill, McConnell could be setting up for a confrontation with the White House in just the first month of Republican control of Congress.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.