After the Keystone XL pipeline veto: over to you, Hillary?

At this point, it seems unlikely that the pipeline will be approved before President Obama leaves office. Any congressional action will be blocked by a presidential veto, and the executive branch is likely to continue dragging its feet on the matter.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
American University students Lindsey Halvorson (l.), Rebecca Wolf, and Rachel Ussery jump up and down as they chant 'we believe that we will win' with other opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline during a celebration of President Obama's veto of the Keystone XL legislation outside the White House on Tuesday

As expected, President Obama has vetoed the bill that would have fast-tracked the Keystone XL pipeline:

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday vetoed a bill to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, rejecting an effort by Republicans and some Democrats to force his administration to let the highly contested energy project move forward.

By saying no to the legislation, Mr. Obama retains the authority to make a final judgment on the pipeline on his own timeline. The White House has said the president would decide whether to allow the pipeline when all of the environmental and regulatory reviews are complete.

But the veto – his first rejection of major legislation as president – is also a demonstration of political strength directed at Republicans who now control both chambers of Congress. Mr. Obama is signaling that he will fight back against their agenda.

The Obama administration must decide whether to approve infrastructure projects like the Keystone pipeline, which cross a border with another country.

In his veto message to Congress, delivered with no fanfare on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Obama wrote that the legislation “attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.”

Mr. Obama added that “because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest – including our security, safety, and environment – it has earned my veto.”

Environmental groups hailed the president’s veto. Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, praised Mr. Obama for keeping his word on vetoing the legislation and urged the president to reject the pipeline.

“The president has all the evidence he needs to reject Keystone XL now, and we are confident that he will,” Mr. Brune said.

Republicans denounced the veto, saying Mr. Obama gave in to the his environmental supporters. Republicans also said it would cost Americans much-needed jobs.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio called the veto a “national embarrassment.”

In a statement, he said, “We are not going to give up in our efforts to get this pipeline built – not even close.”

The bill now returns to the Congress, which will likely make at least some attempt to override the veto. In reality, though, it seems clear that there are insufficient votes in either the House or the Senate to get to the two-thirds majority required to do so. For one thing, the majority that passed the bill was well below that number in both the House and the Senate, which means that the GOP would somehow have to convince Democrats who already voted “No” on the bill once to change their vote and override Obama’s first veto in five years. That’s unlikely to happen. Indeed, it’s not even likely that all the Democrats in the House and the Senate who voted for the bill will be willing to vote to defy their party leader on a veto override.

None of this is a surprise, of course. The Obama Administration made it clear back in November when a Keystone XL bill was floated in the lame-duck session of Congress that the president would veto any bill that made it to his desk, and there was no indication that the administration’s position had changed on that issue in the ensuing months. Indeed, if anything, the administration’s position on the matter only became stronger. At its base, the justification being offered from the veto is the assertion that approval of the pipeline is something that is properly left in the jurisdiction of the executive branch, but it’s also clear that there are political motives behind the veto as well. While some Democrats have come out in support of the pipeline and indeed voted in favor of it in the House and Senate, the vast majority of the Democratic members of both houses of Congress voted against it, thanks in no small part to the environmental lobbyists who have been on a crusade to defeat the pipeline for years now. Obviously, this veto, as well as the administration’s rather obvious effort to “slow walk” any decision on the pipeline, is being made at least in part to appease this segment of the Democratic constituency.

At this point, it seems unlikely that the pipeline will be approved before President Obama leaves office. Any congressional action will be blocked by a presidential veto, and the executive branch is likely to continue dragging its feet on the matter. As I’ve noted before, that’s unfortunate given the fact that the arguments in favor of the pipeline are far more convincing than those against it. Instead, it’s probable that Keystone will become an issue in the 2016 election just as it was in 2012. Given the fact that the pipeline has polled well in the past, it will be interesting to see if Hillary Clinton is as strident in opposition to the plan as President Obama has been.

Doug Mataconis appears on the Outside the Beltway blog at

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