Fight for Louisiana Senate seat prompts dueling votes on Keystone

Mary Landrieu
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) speaks to supporters in New Orleans on election night last week.
(Bill Haber / Associated Press)

The House and Senate are set to consider dueling measures that aim to advance the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project, as the politics of Louisiana’s unresolved Senate election spilled into the first day of the lame-duck session of Congress.

In a move designed to boost her uphill fight for a fourth term, Democrat Mary L. Landrieu took to the Senate floor Wednesday seeking a vote on a bill she cosponsored that would immediately authorize the controversial project, now delayed for five years. The pipeline would carry oil and tar sands from Canada to refineries in Texas and Oklahoma.

As Landrieu and her Senate allies spoke in support of the effort, House leaders abruptly announced that they would vote on -- and probably pass -- a separate bill Thursday to approve the pipeline. The cosponsor of their bill? Rep. Bill Cassidy, Landrieu’s Republican opponent in next month’s runoff election.

Previous attempts to force a Senate vote on the pipeline project have failed amid bitter procedural battles tied to election-year politics. Though Landrieu and other Democrats from energy-producing states have supported the pipeline, most others in their party oppose it.


A vote on the Senate bill is expected Tuesday. A Democratic leadership aide said it was unlikely that anyone in the party would block Landrieu’s effort to pass her bill. Green-lighting the Landrieu bill would help boost her campaign argument that, even as the state trends farther right, it benefits from her clout in Washington as the top Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee.

The Louisiana race is the only unresolved Senate contest of 2014. Landrieu narrowly led Cassidy, 42% to 41%, in the initial vote among a crowded field of candidates last week. Under the rules of the state’s unusual voting system, Landrieu and Cassidy will compete head-to-head in the Dec. 6 runoff.

Control of the new Senate is not at stake, with Republicans already guaranteed 53 seats. But both parties are loath to see a valuable vote lost, particularly with an eye toward a Senate election map in 2016 that favors Democrats.

Landrieu was joined on the floor Wednesday by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, Montana Sen. Jon Tester and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in a series of speeches seemingly designed to boost Landrieu’s political standing at home.


“I didn’t come here to see my name in lights,” Landrieu said. “I came here to create jobs for my state and for this country, and I believe I’ve done an excellent job in the 18 years I’ve been here, through very difficult circumstances.”

“The good senator from Louisiana has been fighting for [this] since the day I got here,” Manchin said. “Her being ... chairman of the Energy Committee has made a difference.”

House leaders derided the last-minute effort to boost the endangered Democrat, even as they scrambled to hold another vote on the pipeline project themselves.

“For years, Senate Democrats have stood in the way of all of these bills,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said in a statement. “It is pathetic, but not surprising, that our economic and energy future is being dictated by Senate Democrats who are only attempting to limit the electoral damage from last week.”

The effort to revive the Keystone project came as President Obama announced a major agreement in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping to reduce both nations’ carbon emissions. Obama has said he would approve the pipeline only if it could be proved not to worsen emissions of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming.

The Obama administration announced this spring he was delaying a decision on whether to approve the project, citing a Nebraska state court decision that invalidated part of the pipeline’s proposed route.

Follow @mikememoli for more news out of Washington.