Hoeven: Obama should approve Keystone XL

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama should demonstrate his commitment to working with Republicans in control of Congress by permitting the Keystone XL pipeline, Sen. John Hoeven said Wednesday.

Hoeven and other Senate Republicans are making plans to advance a bill authorizing the controversial project early next year, as one of their first legislative moves after taking control of the chamber.

While some Senate races are not yet decided, Hoeven, R-N.D., said he already counts at least 60 votes in favor of his legislation to approve the pipeline using Congress’ authority under the Foreign Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Although that’s enough votes to thwart a filibuster and advance legislation in the Senate, it is shy of the 67 necessary to override a presidential veto.

Read more: Republicans have votes to force Keystone XL approval

“After the first of the year, we’ll bring the bill forward as is, we’ll have more than 60 to pass it, and we’ll do so, and then we’ll send it to the president and see if he’s willing to work with us,” Hoeven said in an interview Wednesday. “If he doesn’t — if he does veto it — we may not have 67 votes to override a veto, but clearly we can bring it back, either attaching it to broader energy legislation or (a spending) measure.”

Republicans could add the legislation to a spending bill funding part of the federal government or even pair it with a separate measure designed to accelerate natural gas exports. And Hoeven said it’s possible Republicans could get to 67 votes by picking up a handful of Democrats who have either said the government’s scrutiny of Keystone XL is taking too long or supported non-binding resolutions endorsing the project.

But Hoeven said he hopes it doesn’t get that far.

“The president opposes the project and has tried to defeat it with delay,” Hoeven said, but “given the clear vote from the American public and strong bipartisan support, he may decide it’s time to start working with Congress, and this is a good example of a place to start and why you’ll see us advance the measure early on.”

Obama signaled he was not ready to move on Keystone XL during an afternoon news conference to discuss election results. Instead, he stressed that a State Department review of the project is still underway.

The State Department has said it is waiting for the Nebraska Supreme Court to rule on a challenge to the pipeline’s route through the state before concluding its own Keystone XL review. Eight federal agencies still have to weigh in on the project.

“There’s an independent process. It’s moving forward, and I’m going to let that process play out,” Obama said. While that process is moving forward, he said, “I’m just going to gather up the facts.”

Obama noted that his “parameters” for judging Keystone XL included whether it is good for the pocketbook, good for job and whether it will exacerbate climate change.

Brigham McCown, a former pipeline regulator, suggested Obama could take a pragmatic approach to the project, if a bill authorizing it landed in his lap six years after TransCanada Corp. first asked for approval.

Signing legislation permitting Keystone XL — or even letting it become law 10 days later without a presidential signature — could give Obama political cover while ending the long debate over the project.

“After six years of this, he’s got to be weary of this issue,” McCown said. “Frankly, if I were the president, I’d want it to be taken out of my hands. I’d love for it to be in a bill. I might jump up and down and fuss about it, but good riddance, let’s get on with it, and it’s off his plate.”