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Keystone Supporters Hope Amendments Will Soften Pipeline Opposition


A bill to authorize extending the Keystone pipeline passed the House of Representatives yesterday. It goes to the Senate next week. And the bill will be the first test of the Senate Republican majority's plan to make the Senate work the way it used to - fuller floor debates and amendments to bills from both parties. But as NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, that could just mean longer fights.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: For people who don't inhabit the weird, alternate universe the Senate can be, it's probably hard to fathom why anyone would get excited about long floor debates. But believe it or not, senators are breathlessly talking about the one they're expecting to have over the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The new majority leader Mitch McConnell promised he'd let both sides offer amendments to the bill and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia is thrilled.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: I'm just so excited. I've been here four years. This might be the only third time I've had a chance at complete open process, no holds barred. Say whatever you want to. Introduce whatever you want to. Let's go at it for two, three, four weeks 24/7. That doesn't happen around here.

CHANG: Manchin is one of the main sponsors of the Keystone bill and after the White House announced this week that it planned to veto the legislation, Manchin says he's just trying to save it.

MANCHIN: They just come out of the box - boom, no. With that being said, now we've got to strive for 67.

CHANG: Sixty-seven votes to override the president's veto. Keystone supporters say they're still a few votes short of that, so they're hoping giving the other side a chance to help shape the bill will change a few minds.

SENATOR JOHN HOEVEN: We'll see, you know, what the bill looks like when we're done. I mean I don't know how the president can say he's going to veto something when he hasn't seen the final product.

CHANG: Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota says the president's veto threat may just be a mind game, and they shouldn't fall for it.

HOEVEN: I think the reason he's issuing that veto threat is because he wants to stop the bill. He doesn't want to have to veto it. But the reality is, we need to work through the process.

CHANG: And that process could mean a slew of amendments. Expect ones from Democrats to promote green energy and require American steel to build the pipeline. And they'll probably offer ones to force votes on unrelated causes of their own. Here's the Number Two Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: And how far afield we can go from the subject matter of the bill will depend on Senator McConnell.

CHANG: Some senators say letting the Senate drag the process out can only help the pipeline's prospects. The Nebraska Supreme Court just approved the pipeline's route yesterday, giving the president one less reason to veto it. And even if he still does, Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana says, a veto isn't necessarily the end of the story.

SENATOR BILL CASSIDY: Welfare reform passed twice before Clinton finally signed it. So clearly there's a certain momentum that's created.

CHANG: On Monday the Senate will begin what's sure to be a long series of votes on Keystone. 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.