The Republican Plan to Build That Keystone XL Pipeline

Congressional Republicans have fewer avenues to approve the Keystone XL pipeline than they did when the election was hanging over President Obama’s head. But that doesn’t mean they have no avenues.

House GOP leadership will seek to promote the Canada-U.S. pipeline as part of the looming spending battles. “The speaker thinks all these issues are related, since more domestic energy supplies raises revenues and creates new wealth by creating new jobs,” said a House aide familiar with Speaker John Boehner’s thinking. “It would be hard to understand how the president can spend time working on those same issues and then conclude the pipeline is not in our national interest.”

If Obama rejects the pipeline or at least delays a decision on it—which is widely expected—Republicans will likely push legislation that approves the pipeline irrespective of Obama or takes away his presidential authority to make the decision at all.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s essentially the same strategy the GOP has employed over the last two years.

What Republicans are banking on now is that the postelection landscape will be more favorable. “He [Obama] has not even given us an answer or any timeline for the process,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who along with
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has led the Senate push for the pipeline. “At some point, I think that will create enough bipartisan push that we will get it over the hump.”

Hoeven, McConnell, and the policy advisers working for them—Ryan Bernstein for Hoeven and Neil Chatterjee for McConnell—will lead the Senate GOP’s strategy.

In the House, the top aide for the Energy and Commerce Committee for the last two years—Maryam Brown—has gained an even more influential spot as Boehner’s top energy adviser. She led the initial push within the Energy panel to catapult the controversial tar-sands project to Washington’s front burner in spring and summer of 2011. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., and his chief of staff, Mark Anderson, will work with Brown and her replacement on the Energy Committee, Tom Hassenboehler, to craft pipeline strategy in the House.

For now, Republicans must wait for the Nebraska governor to decide whether to approve the pipeline’s route through the state. “I think at that point, the president needs to tell us what he’s going to do,” Hoeven said.

Publicly, Republicans express confidence that Obama will approve the pipeline, which was the conventional wisdom throughout Washington before Election Day. But privately, some are less optimistic.

“The expectation is that Obama is not going to approve it, or at least he’s going to try to drag it out longer,” said a former House Republican aide who would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

Twenty Democratic senators are up for reelection in 2014, and that group includes big pipeline supporters such as Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Mark Begich of Alaska.

“The constraint on the president is off to some extent, but his political team has to worry about several races,” said the former House aide.