Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR's local journalism that brings clarity, context, and community!

1 Vote Keeps Keystone XL Pipeline From Senate Passage


Here's a fight in Congress that either means nothing or means a lot. The Senate voted down a bill to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.


No matter what happened, the bill was unlikely to become law. The only question was whether it would die in the Senate or on President Obama's desk as a veto. The president has said the pipeline decision belongs to him.

INSKEEP: But there was political significance to holding a vote at all. It was the first time the Senate voted on this. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu wanted this vote. She's in a desperate fight to hold on to her seat in a runoff election. NPR's Ailsa Chang has our story.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana had said it for days, the votes were there. All the Republicans were behind the bill, and she needed 15 Democrats to join along.


SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU: The bill is not passed.

CHANG: In the end, only 14 Democrats said yes.


LANDRIEU: There is no blame. There's only joy in the fight. Where I come from, we just never talk about quitting.

CHANG: You can't run for office in a state like Louisiana without being behind big oil. And although the Keystone pipeline failed in the Senate, Landrieu got in front of the microphones moments after to say she still got something done. The Senate voted on this - finally. And that was because of the clout she's earned over 18 years.


LANDRIEU: I took to the floor of the United States Senate and used the power that comes from being a senator representing one of the great states in this nation to force a debate on an issue that I felt strongly about, and they feel strongly about, for many years.

CHANG: The debate over the 1,600 mile-long oil pipeline has sounded like a campaign since the lame-duck session started last week. Landrieu and her opponent, House Republican Bill Cassidy, sponsored identical bills on Keystone. But Democrats, even the ones who were adamantly against the pipeline, took to the floor to say it was Landrieu who deserved credit for the language. Here's Democrat Barbara Boxer of California.


SENATOR BARBARA BOXER: Let the record be clear forever. This debate would not be before this body were it not for Senator Landrieu's insistence.

CHANG: But in the end, Democrats like Tom Harkin of Iowa said as much as they wanted to help their colleague win a difficult race, concerns about climate change were more pressing.

REPRESENTATIVE TOM HARKIN: I think this is the political consideration of our time, not only for our country, but for the planet. And that is getting off of fossil fuels as rapidly as we can. I know we can't do it overnight, but as rapidly as we can.

CHANG: Keystone supporters had insisted the pipeline would create thousands of new construction jobs. And Democrats who got behind the bill said they had to show the public they learned some lessons from the election. Tom Carper of Delaware.

SENATOR TOM CARPER: And one of those is people want us to get things done, and they want us to work together across the aisle.

CHANG: And they'll get another chance. Republican leaders say they'll be bringing Keystone up for a vote again in the new Congress. It will pass. And President Obama must then choose either to veto a pipeline he's criticized, or swap his approval for something else he can get from a Republican-controlled Congress. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.