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US Senate Fails to Override Keystone Pipeline Veto

Two women wearing sunglasses with a tree design join other opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline to celebrate President Barack Obama's veto of legislation pertaining to the project outside the White House in Washington, Feb. 24, 2015.

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday failed to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill authorizing the construction of a controversial oil pipeline to transport Canadian crude to U.S. Gulf states.

The vote was the first of many likely attempts by the Republican-led Congress to enact legislation over White House objections during Obama’s final two years in office.

The Keystone XL pipeline has been on hold for six years awaiting the Obama administration’s approval or rejection of the project. As one of its first actions, the new Congress passed a bill authorizing construction and essentially taking the decision away from the White House. Obama vetoed the bill last month, but Republicans like Senator John Cornyn of Texas pledged to keep up the fight.

“Our State Department has estimated that as many as 42,000 jobs would be created by construction of the Keystone XL pipeline," Cornyn said. "I remain mystified by the fact that the president and many in his party seem determined to kill what is clearly job-creating, energy-providing legislation.”

On Wednesday, backers fell five votes short of the two-thirds majority required to override a veto. All Republicans voted in favor, joined by some Democrats from energy-rich states.

Democrat Barbara Boxer of California, who has been an outspoken opponent of Keystone from the start, said the pipeline "is presented as something that is going to help this economy, help [lower] oil prices. And I think the only thing it helps, frankly, are the special big oil interests — who, by the way, are going to carry the dirtiest, filthiest oil into our great nation."

Political analyst John Hudak of the Brookings Institution noted that when Democrats controlled one or both houses of Congress during Obama’s first six years in office, very little legislation was enacted that sparked White House opposition, so vetoes were unnecessary. But with Congress now in Republican hands, that is no longer the case.

“The president will certainly veto more legislation in the next two years, and Congress will try their best at times to override it," he said. But “it is very difficult" to do so.

Senate Republicans pressed ahead with the veto override knowing the effort would most likely fail. Despite falling short, Hudak said, Republicans benefit politically by championing Keystone, which polls show most Americans support, and by taking on the president, which always rallies core Republican backers.

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