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Keystone Talks Fail; Reid Blocks GOP Energy Amendments

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:58 p.m. | Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved to block Republican energy amendments Wednesday, likely dooming an energy efficiency bill and a separate vote approving the Keystone XL pipeline.  

Reid’s decision to fill the amendment tree came after he tried to get unanimous consent to set up a vote to approve the energy efficiency bill and, if passed, set up a vote by May 22 on a bill approving the proposed pipeline. Both votes would have 60 vote thresholds, with no amendments in order.  

In response, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sought consent that the Senate vote on five Republican amendments to the energy bill.  

Both objected to the other’s requests and with no path forward, the energy bill will likely fail when the Senate votes to cut off debate, which is expected to happen on Monday.  

Republicans had been pitching various scenarios, pushing to have a handful of energy-related amendments voted on as part of the energy efficiency bill on the Senate floor as well as a binding vote on the Keystone XL pipeline. Democrats have offered up a binding Keystone vote in return for passage of the energy bill, but don’t want to also have to vote on the GOP amendments.  

In a twist, the leading Republican backer of Keystone had suggested Democrats to agree not to filibuster a vote on the Keystone pipeline if the GOP agreeed not to filibuster the energy bill.  

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said there shouldn’t be a 60-vote threshold for a bill approving Keystone if Republicans allow the energy efficiency bill to pass.  

“If you want to make it just energy efficiency and Keystone, just those two by themselves, then they either have to both be subject to filibuster or neither,” Hoeven said. “You can’t say that you have to pass energy efficiency, which means no filibuster on energy efficiency, but then the Democrats are going to filibuster Keystone. That’s not fair.” Hoeven is one of the key Republicans negotiating with Democrats to hold a binding vote to approve the controversial pipeline. He has said that he believes there are 57 votes for the pipeline. He would need three more to overcome a filibuster.  

The simple-majority scenario was a surprise to Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., who has been working with Hoeven to get a vote on the pipeline.  

“I mean, you know I love Sen. Hoeven truly,” Landrieu said. “I really do like him very much, but there was never, ever a conversation ever at any level, in any meeting, that talked about having 50 votes for either Keystone or efficiency.”  

Democrats, led by Reid, have said they would allow a pipeline vote so long as Republicans help pass a pending energy efficiency bill sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.  

But Republicans, led by McConnell have demanded that in order to ensure the energy bill’s passage, they want votes on a handful energy-related amendments.  

Democrats charged that the GOP negotiated in bad faith and Republicans argued that their request for votes on a handful of amendments is more than reasonable.  

Landrieu argued that if McConnell and Republicans backed off their demand for additional amendments Keystone would stand a good chance of passing.  

“If Mitch McConnell wants to have a vote on Keystone — straight up or down, where he may get 60 votes — he most certainly has the power to make that happen,” Landrieu said. “I think Keystone is important for the country and I wish the Republican leadership would agree; so important that they would stand down on any other amendments and let us have a vote on Keystone.  

“I don’t think asking for an efficiency bill that came out of committee 19 to 3, with Sen. Portman as the lead, who is no pushover Republican, is too much to ask,” Landrieu said. “But, you know, they are probably going to blow the opportunity to get a vote on Keystone because they just can’t help themselves with the dozens of amendments, some related, some unrelated that they want.  

She added that negotiations among the leaders are ongoing.  

“They are talking, the leadership is talking,” Landrieu.  

Reid later “filled the tree,” blocking the GOP amendments.