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Senators supporting the Keystone XL pipeline on Tuesday came up one vote short of securing approval for the controversial project after days of intense lobbying from some of the pipeline’s biggest supporters in the upper chamber.
Fourteen Democrats joined all 45 Republican senators in voting for the pipeline, which needed 60 votes to pass. The finally tally was 59-41.
Endangered Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu aggressively backed the bill and spent the past week attempting to convince colleagues to support the project. She pushed for the vote during the lame duck session of Congress after her re-election race in Louisiana advanced to a December 6 runoff. Because the Keystone project is popular in their home state, Landrieu and GOP challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy have jostled for credit for supporting the bill.
Landrieu rarely left the Senate floor in the lead up to the vote, passionately making the case for what she called a common-sense jobs project that will make oil more affordable.
“There is no blame, there is only joy in the fight," Landrieu said after the vote. "Where I come from, we just never talk about quitting. And we dont talk about whining."
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California led the opposition to Keystone's approval, which she called the “Extra Lethal” pipeline because of the harm it would do to the environment. But Boxer credited Landrieu for her leadership in bringing the bill to a vote.
Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, another chief backer of the bill, predicted Monday they would be able to get enough votes to send the bill to the president’s desk. But independent Sen. Angus King’s announcement Tuesday afternoon that he would not support it was a troubling sign for Hoeven and Landrieu.
"Congress is not - nor should it be - in the business of legislating the approval or disapproval of a construction project," King said in a statement. "And while I am frustrated that the President has refused to make a decision on the future of the pipeline, I don't believe that short-circuiting the process to circumvent his Administration is in the best interest of the American people."
Even if the vote had passed, it appeared headed for a presidential veto. Environmental activists have decried the impact of its construction. The Obama administration has said that it wants to wait for a full State Department review of the project’s effects – and it has been skeptical that the project would create the long-term job gains touted by the pipeline’s backers.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated Tuesday that Obama doesn't support the bill. "It certainly is a piece of legislation that the president doesn’t support because the president believes this is something that should be determined through the State Department and the process that is in place to evaluate projects like this," he said.
The House passed their version of the bill on Friday, 252-161-1, with 31 Democrats joining Republicans to pass it.