Democrats struggle to decide if blood is thicker than oil

No position voiced by White House

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With the Keystone XL oil pipeline exposing deep rifts in the Democratic Party, the White House remains tight-lipped on whether the president would sign or veto legislation approving the massive Canada-to-Texas project.

Keystone supporters in the Senate — including nearly a dozen Democrats — hoped to vote this week on legislation to approve the project and end more than five years of delays from the Obama administration. They first planned to attach the measure to an energy efficiency bill expected to come to the Senate floor as early as Monday.


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But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has refused to allow amendments to the efficiency bill. He had promised a vote on a standalone Keystone bill, though it’s unclear when or even if that will materialize.

As of Sunday, the Keystone bill appears to be just short of the 60 votes needed to proceed. All 45 Senate Republicans support it, as do at least 11 Democrats, including red-state Democrats in tough re-election fights, such as Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

Other Democrats, such as Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, are under heavy fire from their Republican opponents on the issue. Mr. Udall, however, recently told the Denver Post he plans to vote against the Keystone approval measure.

The debate has divided the Democratic Party between its environmentalist and union supporters and is making an impact in races across the country, while also leaving President Obama in a tough spot.

Vetoing the measure would show more indecision and a disregard for Keystone’s support among lawmakers and the American people. But if he signed the bill, Mr. Obama would willingly cede his authority to approve or deny pipelines that cross an international boundary.

One fact is certain, according to analysts — the internal pressure from Mr. Obama’s own party will only grow stronger as the crucial November midterm elections draw closer.

“I see it that they’re really vulnerable. You’ve got moderate Democrats that are pro-business, Democrats that understand Obama has been catering to a very small element [of the party] for a very long time. I think, policy-wise, they want this vote and they want the project. A lot of people fear this could come back to haunt them in November,” said Brigham McCown, former administrator of the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The project, which would transport more than 800,000 barrels of oil each day from the western province of Alberta, south through the U.S. heartland en route to refineries on the Gulf Coast, is still under review inside the State Department.

The department put on hold its “national interest determination” as a Nebraska court weighs whether the pipeline’s route through the state is valid. A previous study by the State Department found Keystone would not increase harmful greenhouse-gas emissions but would create more than 40,000 American jobs.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are fed up with the seemingly endless delays and want to pass a bill compelling the president to sign off on Keystone.

The White House, however, isn’t showing its hand.

“I’m not going to speculate on behalf of the president. That process is with the State Department,” said Michael Boots, acting chairman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, during a conference call with reporters last week. Mr. Boots was specifically asked whether the president would sign or veto the Keystone bill.

The White House didn’t respond to requests for clarification on the president’s position on the legislation, though it remains in doubt whether the measure will make it to Mr. Obama’s desk.

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