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National

GOP Will Try To Override Obama's Keystone XL Pipeline Veto

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And President Obama has issued his first veto of the new Congress. He rejected Senate Bill 1, a piece of legislation approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would take crude oil from Canadian tar sands south through the United States and on to the Gulf of Mexico. As NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports, it was an inauspicious beginning to the 2015 veto wars.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The president used his veto pen in private, no press pool, no photographers, just a written statement saying that the bill conflicted with established executive branch procedure. So the veto wasn't even about the merits of the Keystone XL pipeline itself, according to the president's senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer.

DAN PFEIFFER: This is a question of presidential prerogative. There is a process in place, a process of establishing the executive branch, and Republicans are trying to circumvent that process in order to score some political points. And the president is making it clear that that's not going to fly.

LIASSON: Republicans were furious, accusing the president of playing politics in order to side with, quote, "environmental extremists." The Republican national committee had a web video up in no time.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Look. It shouldn't be so hard to say yes to jobs. But President Obama just vetoed the bill. For someone who talks the talk about fighting for the middle class, it doesn't seem like Obama walks the walk.

LIASSON: The bill now goes back to the Senate where the majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, has scheduled an override vote for next week. But it's highly unlikely the Republicans will find the 67 votes they need to override the president's veto. As for that process the president said he vetoed the bill to protect, the State Department is still working through it. As White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged, the State Department has been studying the pros and cons of the pipeline for 2,300 days, more than six years.

JOSH EARNEST: It's certainly fair to suggest that the State Department is conducting an in-depth review.

(LAUGHTER)

LIASSON: Of course, this is no laughing matter, but even the White House press secretary seemed to admit the Keystone pipeline debate has gotten a little ridiculous. The claims of both sides about its job-creating benefits or its environmental impacts have been exaggerated as the pipeline became a potent symbol for environmentalists and for Republicans.

Once the president gets the State Department's recommendation, he will make a decision about whether or not to build Keystone XL. He's been described as leaning against it. In his State of the Union address, he said Democrats and Republicans should set their sights higher than just a single oil pipeline. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.