- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Congress gave final approval to the Keystone XL pipeline Wednesday, setting up the first real veto test of President Obama’s tenure in the White House as he and Capitol Hill enter a new era of frayed feelings.

The bill passed the House in a bipartisan 270-152 vote after having cleared the Senate two weeks earlier, and Mr. Obama now has 10 days under the Constitution to veto it or else it becomes law — with or without his signature.

“The Hesitator in Chief has lost his last alibi,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. “President Obama must either sign this bipartisan legislation or look the American people in the eye and sink the thousands of construction and manufacturing jobs that would flow from approving the Keystone XL.”

Mr. Obama mocked the pipeline project in his State of the Union address and issued a written threat that he would veto the project, but political analysts said it’s a weighty decision that, should he follow through, could be seen as a sign of weakness for a president who’s struggled with low approval ratings already.

Analysts also said, however, that the mere fact of the veto battle signals how deep the rift is between the president and this new Congress — presaging a difficult final two years of Mr. Obama’s time in office.

Keystone, a 1,179-mile pipeline to carry oil from Canada’s tar sands to the U.S. for refinement and shipping, has become a symbol of that rift, with the political fight far outstripping the actual impacts to global warming and job creation.

Environmentalists have drawn lines in the sand, arguing that approving the pipeline could doom the president’s environmental record, while Republicans, joining in an unlikely alliance with labor unions, point to the Obama administration’s own studies that say the pipeline can be built safely, won’t dramatically affect global warming and will create more than 40,000 jobs at some point.

Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the 500,000-member Laborers’ International Union of North America, blasted “job-killing Democrats” and “cowardly politicking” by Mr. Obama, who he said has injected politics into what should have been a straightforward approval.

“As with too many other issues, the administration is more concerned about the politics than the facts,” Mr. O’Sullivan said. “If it were to approve the project based on facts, the president would have to muster the courage to stand up to billionaire contributors who undervalue careers based on working with one’s hands and overfantasize the current capacity of other forms of energy.”

Mr. Obama counters that the tens of thousands of jobs produced will only last during construction, and that there will be only a few dozen permanent jobs running the pipeline.

And despite the administration’s studies showing the pipeline will have a modest impact on greenhouse gas emissions, environmental groups said building Keystone is a symbolic step backward toward a fossil fuel economy that they had hoped the country was on the verge of putting behind it.

“This dirty and dangerous bill is headed straight for a well-deserved veto,” said League of Conservation Voters Senior Vice President Tiernan Sittenfeld.

Were Mr. Obama to make good on his veto threat, there appears to be more than enough votes in either the House or Senate to sustain his veto.

Keystone would be Mr. Obama’s third veto but the first in more than four years.His first veto was issued in 2009, when Congress passed two overlapping bills, and Mr. Obama said he didn’t want a legal confusion. His second veto came on a bill allowing notaries to operate across state lines, which easily passed the Democratic-controlled Congress in 2010 but lost traction as opponents argued it would speed up foreclosures at a time when the administration was trying to halt a foreclosure crisis.

Now facing a GOP-led Congress, Mr. Obama is poised for a far more active veto pen. He’s already issued 13 specific veto threats on bills so far this year — indeed, every single statement of administration policy issued by his budget office has included the V-word.

The White House budget office didn’t respond to a message seeking comment on its surfeit of veto threats.

Nolan McCarty, a political scientist at Princeton who has studied the veto, said Republicans are convinced they will come out ahead of Mr. Obama in the veto fight.

“The last thing the Republicans want to do is pass the Keystone pipeline bill and let the president gain politically from vetoing it,” he said. “The only reason they’ll pass the bill and force the president to veto it is they think the president will lose.”

He said presidents generally resort to the veto in times when their approval ratings are falling, signaling a weaker hand.

William Howell, a politics professor at the University of Chicago, said veto showdowns occur either because presidents are trying to bargain for a better deal from Congress or because lawmakers are trying to set up a show for voters — what he called “blame-game vetoes.”

But Mr. Howell cautioned against reading too much into a specific veto showdown and the ebb or flow of a president’s power, saying there are larger institutional dynamics at play.

During Wednesday’s debate, Democrats said Mr. Obama’s veto threat should have convinced Republicans to forgo the fight and work on other issues instead.
“We should stop wasting our time on it,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey Democrat.

But Republicans said they still held out hope Mr. Obama would change his mind.

“Instead of listening to the people, the president is standing with a bunch of left-fringe extremists and anarchists,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said. “The president needs to listen to the American people.”

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