The Senate failed Thursday to overturn the White House’s decision to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline due in part to a last-minute lobbying effort by President Barack Obama.
Obama’s efforts to head off defiance of his order through phone calls to Democratic lawmakers resulted in 56 yeas and 42 nays — four short of the 60 votes needed to pass.
“The president believes that it is wrong to play politics with a pipeline project whose route has yet to be proposed,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said when asked about Obama’s lobbying efforts earlier in the day.
The amendment to the highway bill authored by Sen. John Hoeven (R- N.D.) would have stripped the president of his authority to deny the needed permit to build the cross-border pipeline from Canada to Texas.
“Frankly, it’s hard to even comprehend how out of touch (Obama) is on this issue,” said Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“I mean, think about it: at a moment when millions are out of work, gas prices are skyrocketing and the Middle East is in turmoil, we’ve got a president who’s up making phone calls trying to block a pipeline here at home. It’s unbelievable,” McConnell said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told Obama to put down the phone and stop lobbying against the creation of new jobs. Republicans tout the pipeline as the nation’s largest shovel-ready project that would create 20,000 jobs.
“This is ridiculous, with price of gas soaring, the president blasts anyone who criticizes his lack of an energy strategy, but then he’s lobbying to stop a common-sense amendment allowing Keystone XL pipeline to move forward,” Hatch said.
That measure was further diluted by an alternative amendment offered by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would eventually approve the project but also sought to block any export of oil brought into the U.S. to be refined.
“A vote for (Wyden’s) bill is a vote to block the project, make no mistake,” Hoeven said.
Wyden said his amendment would ensure that all of the oil would be used by American consumers and not sold to China.
“When you build a pipeline 2,000 miles across the nation, our challenge is to do it right,” Wyden said.
Wyden’s amendment also failed on a vote of 34 yeas to 64 nays.
“Millions of miles of pipelines cross this country, but for some reason, this one pipeline is a problem?” Hoeven said.
TransCanada has announced that it will go ahead and construct one leg of the project that extends from Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas, and will push ahead for the permit to cross the northern border next year.
Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Steven Chu testified before a House panel earlier in the day where he faced questions about the pipeline and previous comments he made that the administration’s goal was not to lower gas prices.
“The president and everybody in the administration want to do what we can to lower the price of gasoline because it has a severe effect on the pocketbook of Americans and it affects American businesses,” Chu told the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and power.
“There is no single magic bullet that can instantaneously do that,” said Chu, who also told the panel he does not own a car.
Some lawmakers were not convinced that the administration is doing all it can to lower gas prices.
“What has the president done to help solve our energy problems?” asked Rep. Fred Upton, (R-Mich.), chairman of the full committee.
“President Obama has twice rejected the Keystone XL pipeline project and all the job creation and secure energy supplies it would deliver,” Upton said. “The president has recently begun to brag that he supports an ‘all of the above’ energy policy, but these actions look more like a policy of ‘nothing from below.’”
Chu was criticized last week after he suggested to the House Appropriations Committee that the Obama administration was not working to reduce the price of gas. Asked by Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) then if the overall goal was to bring down the price of gasoline, Chu said “no.”
“The overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy,” Chu said.