WASHINGTON — Call it a high-stakes political poker game, with the Louisiana Senate seat the big prize.
Three-term Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, facing an uphill fight to hold her seat in a Dec. 6 runoff, on Wednesday called for a vote on approving the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline project.
Within an hour, Republican leaders in the House announced that lawmakers would vote Thursday on a bill sponsored by Landrieu’s Republican rival, Rep. Bill Cassidy, to build the pipeline.
The back-and-forth came against the backdrop of a new political landscape. Republicans rolled in midterm elections, seizing majority control of the Senate with a net gain of eight seats. A GOP victory in Louisiana would make it nine.
It remains to be seen whether the Democratic-led Senate will vote on Keystone. Echoing Landrieu’s plea were moderate Democrats from Republican states, who argued for the project that would carry oil from Canada south to the Gulf Coast. The southern leg of the pipeline between Oklahoma and Texas is already operational.
Landrieu’s request put Republicans who have pressed for the pipeline on the spot, rejecting Landrieu’s call would open them to widespread criticism. Rather, they could go along and seek to add amendments to the bill.
President Barack Obama has delayed a decision on the project that is opposed by environmental groups. Republicans insist that it will create jobs.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Landrieu spoke of bipartisanship and her willingness to work with Republicans. She pressed for a speedy vote on Keystone, telling her colleagues.
“I want to say yes to majority leader — new majority leader Mitch McConnell,” she said. “The time to start is now.”
Seizing on word of the House vote, Landrieu said, “Hallelujah,” and added, “We have now even a clearer path to victory.”
Landrieu has been the powerful chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a post she will lose when Republicans take charge in January.
Energy has been a central issue in the Senate race, and Keystone a frequent flashpoint with both Landrieu and Cassidy supporting the project. Cassidy has said Landrieu has been unable to deliver because of her party’s leadership.
Landrieu has a strong alliance with the oil and gas industry and has pushed for an expansion of drilling in the U.S.
If elected, Cassidy would get a seat on the Energy panel. As a new senator, he would be low in the pecking order of panel members, and in the final two years of Obama’s presidency, Cassidy and Louisiana’s all-GOP congressional delegation would likely have little sway with the Democratic administration.
As Louisiana’s last Democratic statewide elected official, Landrieu has a difficult path to victory in a state that overwhelmingly backed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. Fifty-eight percent of voters supported someone other than Landrieu in the primary last week.
Republican leaders are uniting behind Cassidy, a three-term congressman, while the national Democratic Party has decided against providing advertising support for Landrieu in the runoff.