Environmentalists, worried about the project's effect on climate
change, have put enormous pressure on the president to reject the
pipeline from Canada's oil sands, staging demonstrations outside the
White House and protests in states where he travels.
A decision to approve it now could have prompted that vocal group,
which was instrumental in electing Obama in 2008 and 2012, to sit
out the November 4 congressional elections.
The State Department's announcement on Friday that it would give
government agencies more time to study the project was seen by
strategists from both parties as a move to prevent that and boost
Obama in the eyes of his supporters. Support for the president, or
lack of it, is generally reflected in mid-term voter turnout.
Approval of the pipeline would also have risked dampening the
enthusiasm of wealthy donors such as billionaire investor Tom
Steyer, who is spending tens of millions of dollars to boost
"This is rotten eggs for TransCanada and good news on Good Friday
for those who oppose Keystone as not being in our nation's best
interest," Steyer said in a statement.
Obama cannot run for re-election again, but the outcome of the
congressional elections, particularly control of the Senate, will
determine how much of his agenda can be enacted during his final two
years in office.
Mobilizing the parts of his base that showed up to vote in 2012,
including environmentally-conscious young people, gays and lesbians,
Hispanics, and women, is key to helping Democrats in a year when the
White House is not up for grabs.
But the delay of TransCanada Corp's proposed project to bring oil
from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast does carry risks for Obama's
party. Republicans, who argue the pipeline would boost job creation,
have used the administration's delays to attack Democrats in
BOOSTING CORE SUPPORTERS
In November, all of the seats in the House of Representatives and
one-third of the Senate will be up for election. Republicans already
control the House and need a net gain of six seats to take control
of the Senate.
In recent weeks, Obama has warned of the risks to the party if
disillusioned Democrats do not vote in November, and the White House
has taken other actions to rev up core Obama supporters. Those
include regulations designed to ensure women working for federal
contractors are paid equally for work that is similar to that done
In addition, Obama has sought to stress his healthcare program's
success in signing people up for insurance as a win for Democrats.
The party was stung by a shaky rollout last fall.
"The biggest problem in any mid-term, especially in a six-year
mid-term, is having some level of enthusiasm in the president," said
Norm Ornstein, a political expert at the American Enterprise
"If you have a lot of people who are angry at you or disillusioned
and sit on their hands, you're going to have a disaster in
Defeating Keystone XL remains a top priority for Obama's base, and
delays on the decision have become a common occurrence. In 2011 the
administration said it would study a new route for the pipeline,
pushing the process past the 2012 presidential election. The
following year further delays were announced.
[to top of second column]
The State Department said the postponement would allow time for the
Nebraska Supreme Court to settle a dispute over the proposed path
for the pipeline.
A department spokeswoman said politics did not play a role in the
Environmentalists welcomed the latest delay. "Mostly we think this
helps us," said Michael Brune, executive director of the
environmental organization Sierra Club. "The only thing better than
a pipeline that shouldn't be built is to delay it for up to another
year or more."
Republicans, meanwhile, indicated the decision would provide fresh
fodder for their criticism of Obama over the pipeline. Republicans
are looking for new lines of attack on the president after his
healthcare law, known as Obamacare, recovered from last year's acute
Many Democrats are vulnerable to attack, and some worried that the
delay on the pipeline decision could undermine moderates such as
Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor
whose re-election bids will help determine whether Republicans gain
control of the Senate.
After the State Department's announcement, Landrieu promised
constituents in her energy-producing state that she would wield her
power as chair of the Senate Energy Committee to get the Keystone
Landrieu was one of 11 Democratic senators who urged Obama in a
letter a week ago to make a decision on the project by May 31. But
even if she and her colleagues joined Republicans to pass a bill
compelling Obama to approve Keystone XL, they would have a difficult
time reaching the necessary two-thirds majority in the 100-person
Senate to override a presidential veto.
"We don't think it's particularly likely," said Christine Tezak,
Managing Director at ClearView Energy Partners, LLC about the
possibility of Congress forcing the issue.
That in itself left an opening for Republicans to exploit.
"The biggest impact from our perspective is this takes away the
argument from red-state Democratic senators that they have influence
in Washington to push things through like Keystone," said Tim
Miller, executive director of America Rising, a Republican super
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Roberta Rampton and Valerie Volcovici;
editing by Caren Bohan and Frances Kerry)
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