House Passes Bill to Approve Keystone Over Objections From Obama

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) holds a news conference with the newly-elected members of the House GOP leadership at the U.S. Capitol November 13, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The House of Representatives passed a bill to approve building the Keystone XL pipeline in defiance of President Barack Obama, who today challenged supporters’ arguments that the pipeline will help the U.S. economy.

The Republican-led House passed the measure 252-161, with 31 Democrats in support. The bill will be considered in the Democratic-led Senate Nov. 18, where an aide who spoke on condition of anonymity said supporters have 59 of 60 votes needed to pass it.

Obama could still veto a bill if it passes the Senate.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said he thinks the pipeline will ultimately be built.

“You just had an election where the people are asking Congress to find common ground,” McCarthy said, noting bipartisan support for the Keystone bill. “And it provides jobs. So I’m feeling very positive about it.”

TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone became the first major topic for Congress’s lame-duck session after Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, facing a Dec. 6 runoff in Louisiana, proposed a vote on her bill to bypass the government review and approve the pipeline. Until now, majority Democrats had blocked a similar measure to circumvent the administration.

That prompted House Republicans to schedule today’s vote on identical legislation sponsored by Representative Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican and Landrieu’s challenger for the last undecided Senate seat.

Canada’s Oil

One of the Democrats targeted by pipeline supporters, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, said through a spokesman that he’ll vote against the measure. That will make it harder for Keystone backers to reach the 60-vote threshold.

Before the House vote, Obama offered his most pointed comments yet on the pipeline, directly challenging Republican claims the project would create a significant number of jobs and would lower gasoline prices.

“Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf where it will be sold everywhere else,” the president said today during a visit to Yangon, Myanmar. “It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.”

Oil Dependence

Keystone will make the U.S. less dependent on oil from nations that aren’t as close an ally as Canada, Representative Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican, said yesterday during debate on the measure.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said that the bill would “lower energy costs and create more jobs.”

In the House, none of the Republicans opposed the bill. Representative Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican, voted “present.”

“There continues to be strong bipartisan support for Keystone XL and we are encouraged by any effort to move this process forward,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said in an e-mail.

TransCanada, a Calgary-based pipeline company, proposed Keystone six years ago, in 2008. It has since become a battleground over jobs, climate change, and energy security.

Obama indicated he thinks its importance is inflated.

“I have to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States or is somehow lowering gas prices,” he said today.

Environmentalists criticized the House action.

“The vote supported a destructive project with no redeeming value for anyone other than TransCanada,” Luisa Abbott Galvao, a climate and energy associate with Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, said in a statement.

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