Both sides in the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline won illusory victories on Friday.
House Republicans scored theirs Friday afternoon, easily passing a bill to approve the construction of the project that would allow oil from Canadian tar sands to be transported across the United States. However, the vote tally of 266 to 153 left the chamber well short of the 290 votes needed to override President Obama’s promised veto of the bill.
Keystone, which has languished through multiple levels of review for six years is supported by a majority of Americans in various public opinion polls, and twenty-eight Democrats voted with all but one Republican to approve the project.
The Senate is expected to vote on similar legislation on Monday, and will also likely pass it. The upper chamber may have a better chance of securing a veto-proof majority, but the failure of the House to do so Friday means that the likelihood of the bill becoming law is practically zero.
The vote came on the same day that the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in favor of landowners who charged that a state law approving the construction of the pipeline was unconstitutional. However, under Nebraska’s constitution, it requires a supermajority of five judges on the high court to declare a law unconstitutional. That meant that, despite the fact that a majority of judges supported their claim, the plaintiffs’ case was dismissed.
The White House had been using the pending lawsuit as one of the reasons justifying its opposition to Congressional action forcing the approval of the pipeline, and Congressional Republicans immediately pounced.
In a statement released Friday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “President Obama is now out of excuses for blocking the Keystone pipeline and the thousands of American jobs it would create. Finally, it's time to start building."
However, an administration spokesman told the press Friday that because a State Department review of the project remains incomplete, the president still believes that it is inappropriate for Congress to force the issue. The veto threat, then, still stands.
Friday’s outcome makes the Senate’s vote on Monday little more than symbolic, as members now know that there is not enough support for the bill in Congress to override a presidential veto. However, symbolic votes still have meaning, and Congressional Republicans may see some political value in forcing President Obama to actually veto a bill greenlighting the popular project.
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